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Rethinking How We Discuss the “Sins” of Anxiety and Depression

This is an excerpt from my newly-released book, Anxiety and Depression Are (Not) Always Sins. It is available here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07KKYPGPP/

 

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” – Proverbs 12:18

 

I think a lot of Christians don’t know what to do with anxiety and depression. Are they sins? Many Christians seem to think so. But if they are sins, how do we address them? Most Christians seem to address them this way: since they’re sins, stop doing them. Stop being depressed—it’s sinful. Stop being anxious—it’s sinful. Why do you still look so down? Stop it. You’re not believing God. You know His promises; is it that hard to pick your head up, be happy, and believe?

I think this mindset mostly comes from a misunderstanding in our culture from people who have never struggled with anxiety or depression or who just don’t have any education about their effects. They feel perfectly fine; they have no trouble having fun and being happy; they straight up don’t get it when they see someone with his or her head down. Life isn’t that bad; what’s the problem? Cheer up.

Of course, there are also many Christians who do understand, either because they’ve been through the same thing themselves or because they’ve received mental health education or because they’re gifted in empathy.

As someone who has struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression for the past 10+ years, I remember worrying that I was making God mad with my depression and constant anxiety. I tried really hard to stop. But it wouldn’t go away. In my head I thought God was upset with me for it.

This is a big issue. A pastor in California recently committed suicide after openly battling depression. That’s not the first time that has happened. Pastors and laypeople alike battle the destructive effects of the stigma attached to mental illness—from other Christians. And I keep reading articles and hearing about it on social media: people who have struggled with these issues talking about how they’ve been hurt by the pervasive rhetoric that anxiety and depression are sins and you just need to believe God more and get through it. The result of that rhetoric has and always will be that people feel they’re not good enough, they don’t have enough faith, and God is mad at them for their lack of faith. When you have a depressive disorder or anxiety disorder or both, you can’t just make the depression and/or anxiety go away. You may have an extraordinary amount of faith, but you’ll always be left wondering why you can’t trust God. You’ll always be wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” And, unfortunately, things can easily get worse from there.

During some of the hardest periods of my OCD, I attended a great church. This church is known for exceptional Bible teaching, community outreach, and strong community within the church. For someone who attended such a church to still have a misunderstanding of the relationship between anxiety, depression, and sin is revealing. Maybe the church addressed it, and I just don’t remember or I just couldn’t bring myself to believe. But 1.) They didn’t talk about anxiety and depression much, and 2.) The predominant communication about sin was basically believe God’s promises and stop sinning.

Now, I’ve always had a problem with being too hard on myself, and this was certainly part of the issue. I don’t want to just throw that church under the bus and say it was all their fault. My point is this: when applied to anxiety and depression, the way churches discuss sin is destructive.

Here’s the problem. We want to put anxiety and depression in the “Don’t Do” list and say, “Stop it.” We want to look at the scriptures where Paul and Jesus exhort us not to be anxious and say, “The Bible says don’t do it. Therefore, it’s a sin to do it.” But for anxiety and depression, it’s more complicated.