8 Reasons Why Pastors Are Afraid to Talk About Depression

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What is hindering the modern church from being responsive to the world’s leading disability?

Download Dr. Greg Knopf’s free e-book, “9 Lies About Depression that Hurt Everyone – Separating Fact From Fiction” at www.depressionoutreach.com.

The World Health Organization says, “Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease.”

Jesus told us in John 16:33 that “in this world you will have trouble.” So what did He mean?

The greek word “thlipsis” that is translated “trouble” refers to “distress” or “the pressure of circumstances or the antagonism of persons.” Wouldn’t you say most of our heartache comes from either relational conflict or the inability to control our circumstances? 

It is also interesting that Jesus did not exempt believers from what is part of our universal human experience as a result of the fall. Even David, a “man after God’s own heart” cried out, “Why are you downcast O my soul?”

So if having “trouble” and the physical and emotional damage resulting from the trauma is to be expected, why is it believers and non-believers alike hit dead ends when they seek answers in our churches or are looking for help in times of anguish and suffering?

What is hindering the modern church from being responsive to the world’s leading disability?

There are many reasons, but here are at least eight for your consideration:

Don’t Miss

1. Counseling and Medical Treatments Are “Secular.”

There is pressure within many church traditions to limit themselves purely to prayer solutions and admitting otherwise would be seen as a lack of faith. Suggesting people pursue help from a counselor or physician puts them on a path fundamentally antithetical to the purposes and ways God has ordained for us to become spiritually mature.

Seeking help for physical ailments like high blood pressure or diabetes is acceptable, but since depression is caused by emotional and spiritual issues, intervention beyond reading the Bible, confession of sins and prayer is only “treating the symptoms and not the cause.” Unfortunately, when people are limited to only these options, when they don’t find relief, they are told it is because of “lack of faith”—i.e., their own fault. Now they are in a double bind; if they seek medical help, which many need because of biological and genetically predisposed physical hormonal imbalances, they risk the rejection of their spiritual community and support system.

Gregory M. Knopf MD Gregory M. Knopf, M.D. was chosen one of Portland Monthly Magazines’ “Top Doctors and Nurses” – 2013. He is an associate clinical professor of Family Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University and the founder and medical director of Gresham-Troutdale Family Medical Center. He is considered an expert in the understanding and use of anti-depressant medications and how to communicate that expertise to varied audiences including medical professionals, Christian organizations including MOPS, churches, Bible Colleges and Seminaries. He is committed to church involvement and has served in leadership positions and church planting. He and his wife, Bonnie, a talented musician, have three adult children and one granddaughter. He also enjoys tennis, gardening, and organizational development.

More from Gregory M. Knopf MD or visit Gregory M. at http://www.depressionoutreach.com

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  • Richard UK

    Thank you for this very helpful list all of which I can identify from my many, many years of depression. Now that I am, God willing, out of it, I feel, looking back, that the greatest underlying cause of the church’s inability to help is in fact not so much practical (the church’s lack of resources etc) as spiritual unbelief within the church. There are too many of Job’s comforters, whom the Lord later rebukes

    One of the most significant moments for me was a brief business-like prayer with anointing by the minister and elders. The elders were solicitous in a worldly way, but the minister, who as a person is cold until he is in the pulpit, spoke a simple prayer with such faith in the authority of God that it pleasantly shocked me, even though he busily left the room at once afterwards.

    In other words it was his view of God rather than his view of me that helped me the most; he took me to God, rather than trying to bring God to me. My wife and I often say of his preaching that he was on a higher hill and could see more and we would say ‘I want to see what he is seeing’. We are sorry he has moved on. Our usual fare over here isn’t just less of the same, but more of something sadly rather different!

  • Richard UK

    A further thought about ‘that’ minister.

    He was healthily effective despite having only one close friend but that was made all the more powerful when you could see his affection for that Friend.

    It is strange, in these days of encouraging pastors to take an interest in their flock, that he did so by telling us about his friend. I know now that I was (am?) a bottomless pit in terms of needing affirmation and that any church trying to fill me up would always fail. But quite simply, and in a surprisingly impersonal way, he simply took me and others to the ‘plug’ (to continue my analogy). It was however sad that the majority in the church still wanted him to meet their affirmation needs without involving his friend

    • Pastor B

      Richard UK. Wow! Great insight! Thanks for sharing. You have just blessed the church at large.

  • Trudy M Johnson, MA, LMFT, CSP

    Thank you for this very relevant and timely article. I am a Christian counselor helping Christian women with depression. I’ve heard so many stories of shame and suffering around this topic. There are many reasons for depression and most of the time it isn’t because the person is sinning.

    • james

      Keep up the great work in the Lord Trudy!!!

  • mkdb

    “why is it believers and non-believers alike hit dead ends when they seek
    answers in our churches or are looking for help in times of anguish and
    suffering?”

    Good question. In times of trouble or “anguish and suffering” people will seek counsel–once the pain passes their threshold (which varies from person to person).

    The question–and determining factor at this point is this–what kind of “counsel” will they seek?

    There are countless kinds of “counsel” (man’s ideas) that competes with and clashes with God’s counsel. Unfortunately, the church (not to mention the “un-churched”) is dominated by this faulty counsel. THIS ONE THING–“counsel” that is from the world and clashes with God’s Word–IS OUR BIGGEST PROBLEM (whether we are talking about depression or other challenges of life). Yet it is the most popular source of “counsel” in the church today (2 Tim 4:1-5; Ps 1:1-3; Col 2:8).

    A counselor is only as good as the source of his or her counsel.

    Is the Word of God sufficient for life and godliness? (2 Tim 3:15-17; 2 Pet 1:3-4; Ps 19:7-11; Deut 32:47) How you answer this, what you truly believe about God’s Word determines FAR MORE of your life (and your “counsel”) that you probably realize.

    I have counseled many, many people over the years who were depressed. I cannot remember a single time where there was not a clear, definitive, and biblical understanding of their problem. They would all agree to this as well.

    [For the record, I'm not 100% "against" medication, nor am I saying that "All depression comes from sin" ... which really is a red herring that deters us from the bigger problems in all of this.]

    I know I am in the minority in this, and have already been attacked for this and believing the Word is pure, powerful, precise, and SUFFICIENT. This not just “in theory”; I have been blessed to apply the Word to many lives over many years … and it has not failed one single time!

    It is amazing what can happen when we fully trust God and the power He gave us in Scripture … yet many continue to doubt and diminish the Word … whether subtly or overtly, all while giving lip-service to the Word (as in this article).

    • james

      You totally missed the point of this article!!! You should study the Word more sufficiently. I’m guessing from your understanding or lack there of, that you may think that if Paul had more faith in God and in His Word his thorn would have been removed. Please do not counsel any more depressed, or any other people until you study to show yourself approved, rightly dividing the Word. I rebuke that kind of thinking!!! Wow!!!

      • mkdb

        I’m not sure what specific “kind of thinking” you are “rebuking”?

        The part of God’s Word is powerful? God’s Word is pure? God’s Word is sufficient? (1 Pet 1:3-4; etc) God’s Word/truth has blessed thousands/millions/billions?

        Are you rebuking how the Words from God have built up and freed so many from depression?

        Are you rebuking how the eternal truths of God’s Word “has not failed one singe time!” (Is 55; Ps 1)?

        Are you rebuking “It is amazing what can happen when we fully trust God and the power He gave us in Scripture”?

        Are you rebuking “… yet many continue to doubt and diminish the Word … whether subtly
        or overtly, all while giving lip-service to the Word (as in this
        article).”?

        You said, “I’m guessing from your understanding or lack there of, that you may
        think that if Paul had more faith in God and in His Word his thorn would
        have been removed.”

        Talk about “totally miss(ing) the point”! There are too many problems to list here with your false assertions. Your “guess” is errant (to put it kindly). Furthermore, Paul did not talk about “depression.” He even learned to “delight in” or “rejoice” in this unknown malady. Why? Because of God’s sufficiency … which is one of my original and MAIN points!

        Also, you reveal your lack of understanding of either God’s Word or what I said. Your attempt to diminish or distort what God’s Word does or how I try to apply it (“you may think that if Paul had more faith in God and in His Word his thorn would have been removed”) is your own failure. So don’t put that on me, or anyone else.

        If you are suggesting that depression is just one of those maladies that God gives us so that we have to struggle with this for the rest of our life, then so be it. You can live that way if you choose, but why rebuke someone who has helped MANY people overcome and be free from depression? Why demand that I (or those like me)

        I must say, the irony here is palpable. Your view is hopeless and depressing!

        My view brings hope and freedom from depressing. Yet you spend your efforts and energy attacking those who bring hope and solutions? At least reconsider. I know talking about depression is a sensitive subject, especially for those who have or are experiencing it, but please consider that there is another way, that there are solutions in the Bible. Or, you can stay where you are (and attack those who have seen incredible blessings).

        [Go and read Lamentations 3 and learn the pivotal point--and solution--where Jeremiah went from "depressed" to blessed. There are biblical solutions, if we "trust God and the power He gave us in Scripture."]

      • mkdb

        was this just a hit-and-run-because-I-can’t-defend-my-reasoning-or-attacks?

  • mkdb

    The church/church leaders have such a big problem with addressing depression because they address it with the wrong “counsel” and view of man … as is evident in this article.

  • Ben

    Good afternoon saints of God in JESUS NAME. depression is a from of fear of rejection, because of the sin conscience thats been preached over and over again. we must be prefect before God and your faith isn’t up to par or some stupid saying. first we are not perfect not yet. second WE ARE NOT SINNERS SAVED BY GRACE. when Jesus was on the cross what were the last words he spoke forgive them for they not know what they are doing, didn’ the Father hear Jesus, does this mean anything to any one what the blood of Jesus did in our lives. some will say yeah but, but what, either you believe or you or you don’t. because of this kind of preaching fear of God your not good enough, you have to do this or that before God can do anything for you. well guess what God has done all things without any ones permission. Did God ask your permission to hang Jesus on the cross, for us all, did God need any one when He recreated the world? no. now depression it is fear of failure we are not living up to some bodies else’s goal in your life, wrong now you belong to Jesus and you are very precious to Him, Jesus is not gone to lose you under no circumstance. now comes the nay sayers who have no faith in Jesus Christ because the haven’t read there bible or quoting what some man said what God said wonderful is that man who said this or that going to save you, no. does not the bible say study to show your self approved unto God.approved unto God, not a man who knows nothing about nothing. If you believe Jesus is a personal savior he will treat you personally. How many of you can call on the name of the Lord? Ben

  • Happy Face

    My brother in law mentioned in a sermon that he’d been “feeling a little down recently”.
    He was given an immediate 6 week paid furlough. He was told to get counseling. He was told by the Appointments Committee (we are Methodist) that he was being moved to a much smaller church to relieve the pressure. He resisted – and is now out of the ministry & has been defrocked for “insubordination”. I would NEVER EVER tell ANYONE I was depressed…… unless I was prepared to lose my job. I al;ways put on a happy face to everyone no matter what. Only my wife knows the truth. Thank God for her.

    • RevBrian

      Thank God for your wife indeed. My experience was profoundly different to your brother in law, and I’m sorry to read of his experience.

  • ceebeeisme

    Christians who classify mental illness as a result of ‘sin’, have perplexed me throughout my Christian walk. I do not understand why depression is singled out as resulting from sin. Take ‘worry’ for example…do we not all ‘worry’ despite the Bible’s teaching that ‘worry’ is a sin? Call it what you will, but ‘worry’ is interchangeable with having ‘concern’ or feeling ‘anxious’….no one can deny having concern or feeling anxious at some point in their life, especially on this broken earth. For some, worry, anxiety and concern are fleeting, for others, it’s all consuming. I wonder if those who believe that mental illness is a result of demon possession, view other mental/neurological diseases in the same way. How about Alzheimer’s? Unspecified dementia? Panic Attacks, ADD or even phobias for that matter? Isn’t a person with a mental disease just as much a sinner as a person with diabetes? Why not say that diabetes is a result of sin as well? As a Christian woman, I can not fathom the bias about mental (versus physical) illness by some within the Christian community. In fact, I am embarrassed by those who profess to be Christian, yet say that mental disorders are sin-related and brush it under the carpet. Yes, I have read the Bible and I believe that Jesus was addressing those with true demon possession and demon possession is, of itself, completely different from a person suffering from a chemical imbalance within the brain, just as a diabetic is suffering from a chemical imbalance (glucose) within the body. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Jesus in the One true Bible taught that suffering is to be expected and required in this world. He does not specify which types of suffering are more acceptable to Him, anymore than He identifies which types of sin are more acceptable. Having said all this, someone PLEASE tell me why some still believe that a person with depression or another mental disorder, is not worthy of having their suffering addressed openly?

  • Ajagbe Kayode

    Great message. May the good Lord continue to inspire us more on the need of His people.

  • rodney

    Dr. David Seamands has done groundbreaking work in this area for all believers. His book, “Healing for Damaged Emotions by the Holy Spirit”, is a classic. Important article!

  • Ryan

    Depression is a frame of mind that is most likely rooted in the heart. Yea, a person can take some drug to relieve the symptoms but you really have to get below the mind, emotions and conscience and root out the source in the heart of the individual. The Holy Spirit who is in the heart, well, in the heart of the Christian should be the main source for help on the heart side of things. Figuring out exactly the origin is the most dificult part, of course. If it is a sin issue, a person opening up and admitting sin, first to themselves and God at minimum is the first step and then a have real desire to have it gone. Then its asking the Holy Spirit to remove the evil is next. Heart issues are deep rooted and a person can’t just ‘think’ them away. If it was only that easy. With God and His Spirit, all things are possible. God is the heart doctor. It’s a matter of just trusting Him.

    • james

      What is your point Ryan?

      • Ryan

        I’ve had a couple bouts of this blah, gloomyness, despair where the “why am I feeling this way?” wasn’t easily understandable. At those times, I was going to church, every week but what I felt was this emptiness, aloneness sence like God had withdrawn. When I look back, I can see why. I hardly prayed and had gone a long time without reading the bible and what I got on Sundays wasn’t spiritualy survivable. My morality had sunk to a low and had this puposeless existance. This was a spiritual sickness. Lucky me, God sent a right person in the right place at the right time, a person at work who was doing bible studies and through that I got some real spiritual food and back into my bible and snapped me right out of it. It was like a breath of fresh air. Depression is a state of mind caused by an evil heart and a distanced God. For a Christian, it’s life without life. It’s what happens when you live by bread alone.

        • ceebeeisme

          Why are you comparing a person with clinical depression with someone who simply has a bad attitude or in a ‘funk’. There is solid, medical evidence (through PET scans and MRIs) that show the areas of the brain affected by a chemical imbalance. For heavens sake, even children experience clinical depression and I hardly believe it’s because they have an evil heart.

  • james

    AMEN!!! Good article.

  • Algoria

    Dr. Knoph “is considered an expert in the understanding and use of anti-depressant medications and how to communicate that expertise to varied audiences including medical professionals, Christian organizations including MOPS, churches, Bible Colleges and Seminaries.”

    The “Prozac Nation” of a generation ago has become the Zoloft Paxil Lexapro Wellbutrin Celexa Savella Remeron Effexor Cymbalta Luvox Edronax Prozac nation, to name only a dozen of the antidepressants we are turning to. Many of the users of these meds are not getting counselling but just a prescription.

    It’s a complex problem – the mind and soul are open fully only to God’s view. But perhaps part of the reason for the epidemic of depression is relational. Mankind has turned away from God and, again, this may be part of the reason for our emotional problems.

    • mkdb

      Good comment: I agree, depression, is a complex problem, but it is increasingly believed to be a complex PHYSICAL problem, with a decreasing focus/concern about what the individual can possibly do about it (other than take meds). Medications are not necessarily wrong, but more and more people are robbed of the hope and solutions apart from med. AND … if you try to bring this up you get assaulted, accused of hatred or being of the devil.

  • TRUTH

    for two years I have being counceling a friend, with prayer and giving scripture. She just goes right back into SAYING I am SAD I am depressed. I actually lost it with depression the other day. I wanted to bash depression in the head. I could feel this angry rise up in me and I told her depression is a lie from the pits of hell. She needs to start thanking God for her life….It has being a week and she has not being depressed…………..praised God. She thanks God for everything all the time now. As we all should.

  • Luis

    I feel the need to express my biblical view on depression. First, I will define it. From the
    dictionary, one definition says: severe despondency and dejection, accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. Another one says a condition of mental disturbance, typically with lack of energy and difficulty in maintaining concentration or interest in life. This is not even a biblical definition but it pretty much sums it up. Feelings come from the heart. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23. The word despondency means the loss of hope and courage. The word dejection means the state of being sad. Hopelessness means the despair you feel when you have abandoned hope of comfort or success. To me when we as Christians or non-Christians lose hope or abandon hope; we simply are saying to God, I don’t need you. We are simply saying I do not depend on you Lord. God wants us to depend on him in every aspect of our lives. If we do so, he guaranties us freedom. The bible says in 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV), Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. His freedom sets us free from everything, even depression. The fact
    depression exists today is because we lack intimacy with God, we lack faith, we lack knowledge, perhaps there is generational sin that we are unaware of, we lack dependency on God or we are being influenced by something greater. Many things
    happen in the spiritual world and one of them is the spirit of depression. There are many who do not know or even believe in the spiritual warfare or are simply afraid to talk about it. There are spirits all around us that we do not see. Many of them trying to attack us. Many do attack our minds and our souls. If we are weak and let it happen then they will control our mind and our bodies. The “feeling” of depression is simply a spiritual attack from the evil works of Satan and his demons, nothing else. Our mission is simple. Luke 4:18 explains it. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the
    Lord’s favor.” Depression is a result of being oppressed or influenced by evil. There may be people who may have a chemical imbalance, or whatever ‘experts” may call it. If there is an issue with depression, or mental issues then I encourage you to examine one thing, that person’s spiritual life. Examine what that person does. What environment does he live in? If it’s a child, is the father providing spiritual nourishment to the child? Many of you will judge or question my statement and disagree with it. We as humans want to reason everything. God is not a God of reasoning things. He is a God that acts on things and does things his way. It is up to us to believe in his power, to believe in the power
    of the Holy Spirit and I definitely believe in his Word and the power it has on us. It is our choice to depend on him completely.

    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against
    the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against
    the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 NIV

    However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. Mathew 17:21

  • Luis

    I feel the need to express my biblical view on depression. First, I will define it. From the
    dictionary, one definition says: severe despondency and dejection, accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. Another one says a condition of mental disturbance, typically with lack of energy and difficulty in maintaining concentration or interest in life. This is not even a biblical definition but it pretty much sums it up. Feelings come from the heart. Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23. The word despondency means the loss of hope and courage. The word dejection means the state of being sad. Hopelessness means the despair you feel when you have abandoned hope of comfort or success. To me when we as Christians or non-Christians lose hope or abandon hope; we simply are saying to God, I don’t need you. We are simply saying I do not depend on you Lord. God wants us to depend on him in every aspect of our lives. If we do so, he guaranties us freedom. The bible says in 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV), Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. His freedom sets us free from everything, even depression. The fact
    depression exists today is because we lack intimacy with God, we lack faith, we lack knowledge, perhaps there is generational sin that we are unaware of, we lack dependency on God or we are being influenced by something greater. Many things
    happen in the spiritual world and one of them is the spirit of depression. There are many who do not know or even believe in the spiritual warfare or are simply afraid to talk about it. There are spirits all around us that we do not see. Many of them trying to attack us. Many do attack our minds and our souls. If we are weak and let it happen then they will control our mind and our bodies. The “feeling” of depression is simply a spiritual attack from the evil works of Satan and his demons, nothing else. Our mission is simple. Luke 4:18 explains it. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the
    Lord’s favor.” Depression is a result of being oppressed or influenced by evil. There may be people who may have a chemical imbalance, or whatever ‘experts” may call it. If there is an issue with depression, or mental issues then I encourage you to examine one thing, that person’s spiritual life. Examine what that person does. What environment does he live in? If it’s a child, is the father providing spiritual nourishment to the child? Many of you will judge or question my statement and disagree with it. We as humans want to reason everything. God is not a God of reasoning things. He is a God that acts on things and does things his way. It is up to us to believe in his power, to believe in the power
    of the Holy Spirit and I definitely believe in his Word and the power it has on us. It is our choice to depend on him completely.

    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against
    the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against
    the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 NIV

    However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. Mathew 17:21

  • Elder James Muriithi, Nairobi

    Thank you for this enlightening and candid article on the subject of depression. People with Depression and other mental illnesses are stigmatized, and the church should be their refuge as you have challenged us. When we “spitualize” issues we are unable to offer help to those in need and hinder even our evangelism efforts.

    God bless you.

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