This is a question I have wrestled with for many years. It’s a question I have never heard addressed in the pulpit, yet there are many who fit into this category and wonder the same question. For the Christian, we contemplate whether or not we can accept the diagnosis of a mental health issue when our peers will lean towards it being a spiritual issue. I’ve heard the comments, “you need to read your Bible more,” “you need more faith and hope in God,” and my favorite “you just need to pray harder.” I do not doubt that God can heal all things but in a fallen world, we live in fallen bodies that are flawed from generations of abuse, dietary issues, illnesses, disease, and misguided morals. What are we to do?
Jesus tells us what the most important commands are and that in these, the law is fulfilled:
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40, NLT)
As a Christian, it is our desire to do what Christ commands us to do, but what if there is that internal struggle that causes depression, low self-esteem, low self-worth and self-doubt. I have personally experienced all of these in my life and know what it’s like to try to love others when you don’t love yourself. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (Unipolar Depression today) in my early thirties and have struggled to understand and live out this command. Through my own experience and in my working with others who have similar struggles, I believe it comes down to two things: a physiological reason resulting in a mental health issue, and a spiritual struggle.
I have worked with many people who suffer from an undiagnosed mental health issue. These people will often self-medicate through various means causing some to suffer from addictions, and others to live a life of misery. It is my personal opinion that when God created man and woman, we were perfect at that time. It was after the fall of mankind and the ejection from the Garden of Eden that the change in the human body began. Whether it be through inbreeding, disease, exposure to dangerous elements or sin itself, our bodies have become flawed and we must look at the physiological symptoms of people to see if they can benefit from medication management in dealing with a mental illness condition. The Bible even tells us to benefit wise counsel in our life, “The instruction of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (Pro. 13:14). It is through doctors and counselors that we can find the solution that will start us out on a new path.
Depression seems to be the most prevalent mental health issue that hinders our ability to love ourselves and love others. Depression is often misunderstood, and many suffer from it, but do not realize it. The Mayo Clinic list the following symptoms and conditions under the heading of depression:
“Although depression may occur only once during your life, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Depression symptoms in children and teens
Common signs and symptoms of depression in children and teenagers are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences.
- In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.
- In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.
Depression is not a normal part of growing older, and it should never be taken lightly. Unfortunately, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated in older adults, and they may feel reluctant to seek help. Symptoms of depression may be different or less obvious in older adults, such as:
- Memory difficulties or personality changes
- Physical aches or pain
- Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems or loss of interest in sex — not caused by a medical condition or medication
- Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
- Suicidal thinking or feelings, especially in older men” (MayoClinic.org, 10/30/2019)
As you can see, depression can manifest itself in varying ways within the human body. It is a necessity to diagnose depression in a person in order for the proper medication management to begin. Without the proper medicine, people will continue to struggle with God’s command leading them into a life of confliction. In some, they turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate and eliminate the struggle of depression. In others, they may turn to the behavioral addiction such as pornography, gambling, food, etc. Once the diagnosis of depression is reached and proper medication is established, the person’s addiction becomes easier to control and eventually end. As Christians in the church, we need to accept that mental health is a real thing, a real issue, but is manageable with the proper treatment.
So where does the spiritual struggle fit into all of this. Those who are dealing with mental health issues struggle spiritually because they feel they are not worthy of love, and God is a distant figure who cannot help. Once we begin the proper treatment for the individual, the internal struggles in the mind begin to settle down allowing ourselves to be able to concentrate and meditate on God’s Word. When we are depressed, we cannot fathom a God that loves unconditionally as ours does. We feel dirty and not worthy of his love and we feel he cannot forgive the many sins we have committed. But that is the depression talking and not God.
As our minds become more clearer, the Word becomes more meaningful and understanding. We begin to learn of God’s love for us, and it is through His love for us, that we begin to love ourselves, and then love others. In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul explains it well:
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
As we draw from the inner strength of the Holy Spirit, we are able to look over our flaws to love ourselves, and then, begin to love others. For me personally, this journey took many years and many different medications until we were able to establish the right dosage. It took the right dosage to achieve the thought process that I was normal, I did have value, and my life did matter. With all these things in place, I was able to go to God’s Word and hear Him speak to me as I read His Word.
If you are one of the many who struggle with the command to love others because you don’t love yourself, look at the symptoms of depression and see if they fit; seek medical help and therapeutic counseling to help you get your thought processes back on track. God has a better life for you, but you must first recognize your flaws and seek help so that your mind is ready, willing and able to accept the Word of God that will bring you to know true love for yourself and others.