Is depression just a faith issue? A sin issue? Is it just a matter of being more positive and less negative? Actually, it’s deeper than that. In this episode, we’ll explore the fact that depression and anxiety are deep soul issues, that lots of leaders struggle, that it doesn’t disqualify or disable us from leading, and that there is always, always hope!
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[Adapted from the Transcript]
What’s killing your leadership? We started out in week one talking about identity issues and how when a leader doesn’t know who he or she is, that can be very dangerous in their organization and their life.
We also talked about burnout and the problem of living life out of rhythm and living out of balance, overcommitting ourselves to too many different things that aren’t in alignment with our purpose.
In this third session in this series, I want to talk about depression. I want to talk about anxiety. And I want to talk about those related issues that we might struggle with in our mental and emotional health
A little more than a decade ago, I struggled with deep depression in my life. It was caused, in part, by burnout, but it was more than that, too.
There were moments I did not want to go on living, when I really thought the world, my family, and everybody around me would just be better off without me.
That was not healthy or correct. That was not a right way of thinking, but it’s where I was in certain, very low moments of my life.
I’ve been down this pathway, and have fought back, have been brought back by the grace of God to a much healthier place now, but I still struggle from time to time, and none of us are immune to this. If you think you’re immune to it, then you are the most susceptible to the most dangerous kind of mental health issue. And that is where we live in ignorance of it. And it takes us out, and we didn’t see it coming.
Some of the greatest leaders in history have struggled with depression, with anxiety, with personality disorders, with mental health and emotional health issues. And that does not disqualify someone from leadership. It doesn’t disable someone from leading well. It’s just a hindrance that we have to learn to deal with in a very honest way, where we need a lot of grace and a lot of support and a lot of help.
I believe that we can lead and struggle.
When we start talking about church leaders, and we start talking about depression and mental health issues, there is a lot of stigma surrounding the issue. And that stigma stem from some very unhealthy ways of talking about this issue.
Stigma #1: You Can’t Share That Stuff
Some of us came from a generation, or a culture, or an atmosphere that taught us that we’re not supposed to talk about this.
Just deal with it. Just choose to get by. Just choose to be happy. Don’t even acknowledge that it might be depression, or a mental health issue. Just struggle with it.
This is rooted in the belief that depression is a weakness or a character flaw, or it’s something that makes me less than other people if I struggle with depression. That if I walk into a room full of people, I can’t lead or influence those people anymore if I struggle with depression. And that’s simply not true.
You impress people by your strengths, but you influence them when you embrace your weaknesses and share them authentically.
Stigma #2: It’s Just a Faith Issue
The second big stigma surrounding depression is that it’s just a matter of either thinking more positively. It’s a faith issue and if you’re depressed, if you’re sad, you’re just not a very good Christian. You just don’t have a lot of faith, you’re just not very close to Jesus or you just don’t think very positively.
We almost take depression and consider it kind of the negative spirituality, whereas positive thinking and faith, those are the positive spirituality. Nothing could be further from the truth.
God stands beside those who are depressed, those who struggle with mental health challenges and issues. It’s not just a faith issue.
Stigma #3: It’s Just a Sin Issue
There’s a whole branch of counseling – nouthetic counseling – that claims there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance. There’s no such thing as a mental health issue per se. It’s all spiritual. It’s all about sin. And if there’s a problem in your life, if you’re depressed, it’s ultimately because of a lack of repentance and a lack of being right with God.
If you believe the Bible, and you believe it’s the source of truth and wisdom, then you know that the Bible describes how God created us, and that we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. When I study neuroscience, I am studying God’s creation.
When we talk about chemical imbalances, or we synapses in the brain that are created through trauma, or chemical addiction… When we talk about brain issues, mental health issues, we are not talking about non-spiritual things. We’re not just talking about sin issues.
We’re talking about human issues.
We’re talking about living in a world that is broken, where we tend to either flee or fight as kind of a survival instinct when we’re at our lowest, when we’re at our weakest, when we feel the most threatened. And because of that, we often shut down or medicate. And a lot of times that is the result of having been through trauma, having been through something that was done to us that we didn’t choose at all.
Mental health issues are real issues.
There are extremely wise, smart, trustworthy people who are constantly studying the way the brain works.
They’re constantly looking at why people make the decisions the way they do and how addiction works. It’s not an exact science. There are plenty of different opinions, even among therapists. But there are some basics that we need to embrace and be educated about.
Brain health is a health issue. Can he miraculously instantly take away depression? He can, but most of the time, that’s not the way it works.
Most of the time, he allows us to struggle and to grow and to get stronger through the struggle. It’s long term.
I also believe that we need to celebrate authenticity. In other words, when someone comes forward and says, “Hey, I struggle with this.” Instead of alienating them, instead of acting weird about it, instead of pushing them to the fringe, we need to celebrate their authenticity, to celebrate the act of opening up. Because the more people open up, the more we can help people. The less people open up, the more people die.
We also need to create atmospheres that are safe spaces, where it’s okay not to be okay. I’m convinced that the church ought to be the safest place in the world for someone to come forward and talk about addiction. But instead, we have a shame-based atmosphere.
We need to create places where it’s okay not to be okay. Where it’s okay to talk about these things and to struggle together and not be alienated or ostracized because we struggle with something that is physical, mental, and emotional in nature.
It needs to become part of our regular language that we are recommending and moving people toward getting help. That we’re able and willing to refer people to counselors, to therapists, to medical doctors, to psychiatrists, to talk to people who are trained in this field.
I want to recommend a follow-up resource for educating the church. It is simply Mental Health and the Church.
If You Struggle
If you’re a leader who struggles with depression or anxiety I want to share some words with you that are really important for you to hear and for you to know.
Let me clarify. I am not a trained counselor. I am not a therapist. I’m married to a trained and licensed therapist who’s wonderful, but that does not qualify me to give you official mental health advice.
So I recommend that you talk to your doctor, a therapist, a counselor, talk to trained professionals about this. I am sharing with you my personal perspective out of my story, out of my experience, and out of what I know as a pastor.
First of all, I want to encourage you to focus on what you know to be true. In other words, your emotions are not a reliable source of your worth. Your emotions are not a reliable source on which you make life sized decisions. Whether we’re talking about an enormous decision about your marriage, for example, or taking your own life… those are life-sized, life-and-death decisions.
You have to focus on what is objectively true. And one of the things that is objectively true is that you are never alone.
There is nothing you struggle with that someone else you’ll bump into today isn’t also struggling with. Other people suffer too.
You’re also never alone in the sense that God is always with you, and he is the God of all comfort. That’s who he is.
Paul wrote this…
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NLT
God is merciful. He is the source of all comfort. You might picture God as harsh. You might picture God as unbending toward our pain. You may picture God as unsympathetic or uninvolved. But the fact is, God is the God of all comfort.
God will use your pain. He will use your depression. I can’t explain why you’re suffering it, but I know that God can use it. God never wastes your hurt. And your greatest ministry often arises out of your greatest misery.
Faith doesn’t “fix” everything. Faith sometimes gets us in more trouble than we anticipated, and yet it’s out of those troubles that God brings us comfort and brings us solutions in our lives.
You got to give adequate time to yourself, to other people, and to God. Divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually. You’ve need retreats – 30 minutes in the morning, a day off per week, a trip away every year.
You also though have to spend time with people. It is so easy to isolate because of depression. This is hard because depression causes us to want to be with people and then to be terrified of being with people. You weren’t made to have to go through this struggle alone.
And there are some people you don’t need to be around. There may be those who tempt you to stay in depression. They are manipulators. They’re controllers. They are people who are shamers. I’m not encouraging you to hang around those people or to feel obligated to develop relationships with people who are harmful to your mental and emotional wellbeing. I do believe that you need some people in your life who are safe, and you’ve got to seek them out, and you got to find them, and you got to give time to them.
And you need to give time to God. Let the Creator speak to you about who you are, and about how you are, and about how he made you.
Finally, don’t give up hope. The world needs you more than you know. You are loved more than you know. You are more valuable than you know. Please don’t give up hope.
Do not stop believing that there’s purpose in your pain.
Do not stop believing that you are designed for a purpose. You can do this. You can handle this struggle. There is never a moment where it is too much for you to survive. We need you not to check out. You are always better alive. Your family is always better off with you here. The people you know and love are always better off with you here. The leaders around you, the people that you lead are better off with you here.
Do not give up hope.
Photo by Nik Shuliahin