Monday, November 14, 2011

Rewind SGM Radio: Getting Past the Christian Stigma of Depression Part One - January 2009

Getting Past the Christian Stigma of Depression
By Lorraine Walker
Shown: Dr. Bob Nichols

Mental health has long been the elephant in the room of the local church. People who suffer from depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders or any other illness that affects the mind have been avoided and left to sit alone in the pew for too long. Whether this is from fear of the unknown, ignorance or wrongful teaching from the pulpit, the result has been the same. If a mental illness makes someone noticeably different from fellow churchgoers, they are often ostracized or a subject of gossip.

The truth is that Mental Illness is a disease that needs to be seen in the same light as any other disease such as cancer. It is not contagious or proof of a spiritual wrongdoing. It is not demon oppression or possession. It is however a very serious and disabling condition that requires professional help and open discussion.

The National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health which is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers several sobering statistics on their website. The site reports that one in four Americans, or 26% of the population, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. Mental illness is one of the major factors in suicide, which was the eleventh leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2004. Suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for men in 2004, the sixteenth leading cause of death for females, and the third leading cause of death in young people ages 10 to 24. [Statistics quoted are from the NIMH National Institute of Mental Health website at (2009).]

Many websites on depression cite the prevalence of the diagnosis of this type of Mental Illness at 9.5% of the American population in any given year. However, only about one-third of those who suffer from depression actually seek help. The rest suffer in silence. Many fill our churches and our workplaces, living their lives in the shadows. The Church can and should be a part of the healing process for those who suffer from depression and all types of Mental Illness.

A friend of mine, who suffers from bi-polar disorder, or ‘manic-depressive’ as it has also been called, once described mental health as a continuum. At one end is a state of complete Mental Health and at the other, Mental Illness. All of us are somewhere on that continuum and our position may shift depending on the day or year. No one is immune and good mental health needs to be a goal that we work toward daily, similar to good physical health.

Dr. Bob Nichols is an expert on mental illness and works with pastors to assist them back to a state of mental health. He has a doctorate in theology and psychology and over thirty years in ministry. A speaker and counselor who travels the world, Dr. Nichols recently took time while in Portugal to answer our questions about depression and the Church.

Dr. Nichols feels that prevalence of mental illness in the church is typical of the general demographics. “Though probably a bit higher in the pulpit, as is typical with a high-stress job,” says Nichols. “Some church members may go to their pastors for counseling if the pastor is effective in this area. Larger churches have full-time pastoral counselors and other churches have lay-led counseling teams. The later is the present trend according to Barna Research Group. Due to the fall of many public church leaders, the parishioners are no longer trusting the professionals and are trusting their friends, especially if the friend has some form of training.”

For a Christian with depression, reaching out for help is often very difficult. They may feel that it reflects on a lack of spiritual maturity, or that others may see them as inadequate in some way. Jimmy McMillan, a southern gospel artist with McMillan And Life, is a Christian who suffers from clinical depression and who recently shared his battle in an interview with SGM Radio. Jimmy has talked with many people who also fight this battle and shared what he has heard regarding where they go for help.

“The answer varies greatly depending on the spiritual atmosphere of the church they attend,” says Jimmy (pictured to left). “Is the church a body that understands and cares for it’s own with open hearts and minds or simply an organization of members? It is not hard to tell the difference and the heart of a church determines whether someone feels safe to share their need for help, especially when it comes to this illness that has long been regarded as shameful. The same applies to the pastor and perhaps even more so as they often set the spiritual tone for their church.”

Dr. Nichols agrees regarding the pastors’ search for assistance. “Where do pastors go for help? This is a huge problem. Many denominations are developing vehicles for this but most do not have a vehicle. I presently work with different denominations providing that service. The problem is that men of the cloth are viewed by most as those with all the answers and no problems. When they do share a problem, most denominations terminate their services. Therefore the pastor is induced to hide his issues.”

Timothy Mills, southern gospel artist with The Southern Brothers, is pursuing his degree in Psychology and recently shared his views on mental health with us. “I would argue that the church Mental Illness statistics are quite similar [as the quoted demographics], if not higher. My logic is that the spiritual opposition has found, or always known, that the true battle for humanity is within the mind. If one can capture the mind, the rest is merely consequential. I believe that all church and religious leaders, including pastors, deacons, teachers and singers, have a huge target put upon them for the simple fact that they are leaders. As cliché as it may sound, the church will rise and fall with its leadership and the enemy knows this.”

Timothy (pictured to left) sees a change in Christians seeking help with Mental Illness. “I believe that the tide is turning somewhat on the stigma of Mental Health counseling. Attitudes have changed in the past ten years and dramatically in the last twenty. Most counseling, I believe is still done through local pastors, and for pastors, through a loose network of friends within the pastoral circle. It is sort of a good-ole-boys network to this day. I think the tide is turning in the positive direction for the pastor’s flock, but I think the leadership has some way to go before Mental Illness is addressed in a positive manner within the ranks of pastors. I liken this problem as John 3:16 syndrome. All in Christianity can visualize God saving the world in spite of their faults and sins, but balk on the thought of themselves. “Whosoever is much easier to mentally and spiritually process than me.”

One hindrance to finding help for Mental Health issues, is the inability of the Church leadership to understand the symptoms they are seeing in their parishioners. A recent article on stated, “Here’s the first paragraph of a recent report titled, “Church Pastors Dismiss Mental Illness.” : In a study of Christian church members who approached their church for help with a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, researchers found that more than 32 percent were told by their pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. The problem was solely spiritual in nature, they were told.”
A quick search revealed that the quoted report is no longer accessible on the internet, however this appears to be the unfortunate reality for many.

Dr. Nichols listed the following as symptoms of depression, one of the most common mental illnesses:
“There are many types of depression. Some of the better known are:
Agitated depression
Clinical depression
Bipolar depression (also called manic-depressive disease)
Winter depression (lack of sunshine, Vitimin D)
Postpartum depression

Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts; that affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished away. People with a depression cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without recognition and help, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years.

Depression symptoms include:
* Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
* Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
* Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
* Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
* Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
* Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
* Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
* Restlessness, irritability
* Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

If you or anyone you love fits this description, please seek help from your family physician. Untreated depression can lead to many things, even suicide as was discussed earlier.

In future parts of this series, we will talk about the diagnosis of mental illness, the Christian’s positive response and the connection between the spiritual, emotional and physical aspects of Mental Health.

For more information:
Dr. Bob Nichols:
Jimmy McMillan, McMillan and Life:
Timothy Mills, Southern Brothers:

By Lorraine Walker
First published on in January 2009
For current features, please click on


  1. Although this article was researched and posted some time ago, the facts are still as valid today. In fact, the statistics may be worse. If you or someone you know suffers from a mental health issue, please find help. Speak to your family physician or contact the nearest American or Canadian Mental Health Association agency.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I enjoyed every little bit part of it and I will be waiting for the new updates.
    Extenze Male Enhancement Australia