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To Those Who Think I Can 'Pray Away' Depression

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Let me start this off with one thing. I am a Christian. I believe in God, because God knows I need someone to save me just as much as the next person.

I also have major depressive disorder (MDD). The fact that I have MDD doesn’t make me any less of a Christian. Yet again and again I hear about people in the church telling individuals like myself to just pray harder, as if depression is purely a lack of faith. It’s not just me either. I know of many other people who have been told far more bluntly than I have that they should just “pray away” their depression.

There are a lot of problems with this line of thought, so to those of you who would make such a comment towards me or anyone else with MDD, here’s what I want to say to you.

Firstly: Mental illness, including depression, is an illness in the brain. This has been shown with research time and time again. So if you don’t view depression as a medical condition, please look at the research before you make uninformed and uneducated comments.

Secondly, I’m going to humor you for just a moment. Let’s pretend depression wasn’t a medical condition (but it is, just in case I didn’t make that clear yet). How does it help to make people with depression feel awful and guilty? No one is going to see your perspective if you speak to them in a harsh and judgmental way.

So, since depression is a medical condition (I think we have this much covered by now, right?), I want to ask you something. Would you tell someone with another condition to just pray harder and not go to the doctors? Would you tell her parents it was their fault and they should have raised her with more faith? Would you ever blame anyone else for any other type of medical condition? Would you ever tell anyone with any other medical condition to not take their medications? I think most people wouldn’t. I think most people would reach out to them with love and compassion, because they understand these circumstances are out of their control. Depression is exactly the same. It’s a medical condition completely out of the person’s control, and individuals dealing with it should be supported in the same ways as anyone else with any other medical condition.

A diagnosis of depression should not be an automatic switch that causes one to be abandoned by their church. There is a way to support people with depression through the church without abandoning them. I know because I have a church that does that. I have a church where I can text my youth pastor about my depression and he will respond saying something along the lines of, “I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time medically right now. Know that we’re praying for you and you are not alone.” A church where when I told the senior pastor I was dealing with suicidal thoughts, he responded with encouragement and reminded me I was loved no matter what. This is how the church should treat people with depression. It should treat them with kindness and compassion as if they had any other medical condition, it shouldn’t blame them for the hardships they’re facing and shouldn’t make them feel guilty or ashamed.

Remember that people with depression are just people, like you or me. They’re going through something that is out of their control, and it affects their lives in painful and debilitating ways. Treat them with the compassion and kindness they deserve. Don’t abandon them. Depression is just another medical condition.

Originally published: July 11, 2016
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