Life in Chicago (W here) is getting darker, colder, and more gray. It snowed last week. I'm not going to lie... I'm struggling with this. It seems like every single winter I enter a phase of mild depression. I don't know if I believe wholeheartedly in this idea of seasonal affective disorder (also know, ironically/brilliantly/terribly as "S.A.D"), but if it is a true condition, I think I have it.
And part of me thinks...why wouldn't people get depressed in winter? It gets dark at 4:30pm and it's freezing out. Who doesn't think these things are obnoxious? Who isn't happier when the day is full of sunlight and you can feel the warmth on your neck as you walk to work?
Anyway, as the winter is creeping in, and as my mood is consistently more blue, I've been thinking a lot about the common perception in the world of Christianity that mood disorders and mental illnesses are an indicator of sin wreaking havoc in the life of a believer. In one sense, it's easy enough to think that way when many of these mental issues present themselves as extreme fear, lack of hope, worry and anxiety, etc, and the Bible is clear that when we are in Him we should not feel that way. As such, it's easy to say, "If you feel fearful/anxious/hopeless then you must not be spending enough time or are not serious enough with the Lord." In another sense, I can't believe that the majority of Christians are going to argue that chicken pox or the flu or whatever other physical ailment is a result of sin.
Why is it that we can so easily recognize that physical ailment is simply a period of our bodily systems going awry in the face of attack, and not recognize that mental ailment is simply a period of our brain going awry in the face of challenging life circumstances?
It' so easy to tell a hoarder to just "throw that stuff away," or a depressed person to "cheer up," or a phobic person to "get over it."
No one tells a person with a broken leg to "shake it off and move on." Rather, we give that person assistance to heal. We give them painkillers to help them function. We put their leg in a supportive cast. We tell them to go to physical therapy to retrain the muscle. We avoid, in the future, whatever activity caused the injury.
A person with mental illness needs the same assistance. They need a supportive environment to recognize and treat the issue. They go to therapy to retrain the brain how to cope. They may take medication to jump start the brain to start producing hormones like serotonin again. And they avoid, if at all possible, whatever situation caused the injury.
I think that we, as the church, have got to start coming alongside people with mental illness instead of treating them as though they have personally failed because of their disease. We know that an addict is never going to get better unless they have a supportive group surrounding them, yet so often in the church we banish those with "issues" as though their disease is a threat to us and our view of what "saved people" should be like.
Just some thoughts as I read more about mental illness in the church, and through my own experience as I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past and have worked my way through the gamut of thoughts about what that means for my life and my faith. And what I have come down to is basically that those who are struggling need support, not a lecture. They need love, not condemnation. They need treatment in addition to prayer.
And that is how I am approaching my mood as old man winter approaches.