May 18, 2011

Review: Christians Get Depressed Too

3 Min Read

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1 out of every 10 adult Americans currently suffers from depression. Depression is not confined to the United States. The World Health Organization describes depression as “common” in the world today, affecting an estimated 121 million persons. If we were to consider those who have not been clinically diagnosed with depression, but who suffer periodically from mild forms of depression, these figures would undoubtedly swell.

Depression, then, is widespread. It is in our families, our neighborhoods, our places of work, and in the church. How ought believers to minister to those who are bearing this burden? Regrettably, it is just here that well-intentioned but uninformed Christians have done more harm than good. Sometimes they offer little more than pious cant. Sometimes they end up blaming the depressed person for his depression. The impact on the depressed Christian can be devastating.

David Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, has written the most helpful, concise, and pastoral Christian treatment of this subject that I have encountered. If you have friends or family members who have experienced depression; if you have experienced depression; or if you want to know how to minister effectively to those who have, then you need to read this book.

What are its strengths? This work is clear and understandable. Christians Get Depressed Too manages to be theologically nuanced while also accessible to a general audience. This work is concise and practical. After completing the book’s 112 pages, the reader will walk away with a clearer sense of what depression is and how best to serve those facing depression. This work is well-organized. It consists of six alliteratively-titled chapters: “The Crisis;” “The Complexity;” “The Condition;” “The Causes;” “The Cures;” “The Caregivers.” Many of the chapters have helpful internal structures, from the enumeration of “false” thought patterns in “The Condition;” to “ten areas [each beginning with ‘s’] for caregivers to consider when they are trying to help a depressed person get better” in the closing chapter.

Christians are not immune from depression simply because they are Christians.

One feature of this work that particularly commends it is its balance and moderation. Take, for example, the question, “what are the causes of depression?” Murray is unwilling to say that depression’s causes are exclusively physical (brain chemistry), spiritual (demon possession or personal sin), or mental (an overactive imagination). In company with the Puritans, Murray rightly recognizes the often unfathomable interrelations of mind and body, concluding that depression’s causes may be manifold, complex, and elusive.

If depression’s cause(s) are complex, then so also are its cures. Murray identifies four areas that together comprise what he calls a “‘package’ of healing”: lifestyle, false thoughts, brain chemistry, spiritual life (70-86). None should be considered to the exclusion of the others. Each should be part of a comprehensive approach to one’s own or to another’s depression.

Murray recognizes the importance of informed caregivers and so devotes an entire chapter to the subject. The counsel in this chapter should be spread far and wide in the church. For instance, after noting that “the general rule is to listen much and to speak little,” Murray proceeds to list eleven things one should not say to a person battling depression.

As Murray notes at the outset of this work, the Scripture affords many examples of Old Testament saints who experience what we today would likely identify as “symptoms of depression-anxiety.” Solomon reminds us that “the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked” (Eccl. 9:2)–Christians are not immune from depression simply because they are Christians. Depression’s darkness, then, reaches far and wide. Thankfully, Murray has shed Scripture light on depression’s darkness, and for that the church is in his debt.