In recent years the public conversation around mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety, has risen.
This is a good thing.
Recently I have wondered however whether depression and anxiety are now being over-diagnosed. In an attempt to drop the stigma, are we now too comfortable with the idea that we are depressed, or anxious? The irony of this question is not lost on me as someone who is devoting a significant amount of time and energy to raising awareness of the issues of mental illness specifically in the church.
In my wrestling with this question, I have concluded that it is better for depression and anxiety to potentially be over-diagnosed, rather than under-diagnosed and stigmatised. I do think, however, that there are some principles with which we can approach the conversation, particularly in church communities.
The first is that we shouldn't be too comfortable with mental illness. What I mean by this is that conversation can easily turn into resignation. 'There's so many depressed people, and I'm just another number' can easily feed into negative feelings of hopelessness. We need to keep fighting for our health. Our bodies will not be fully restored until the final day, but God still gives us community, professional help and even medical intervention if we need it. In a nutshell, don't give up, and don't let the statistics get the better of you.
As Christians, we also need to consider the reasons why so many people are now coming out of the woodwork. I recently asked a friend, who is a psychologist, why they thought the incidence of depression was going up so much. Is it over-diagnosis? My friend believes this isn't the reason. Rather, we are now growing up with higher expectations of ourselves, our abilities and our lives. Therefore, when there is a mismatch between this expectation and reality, disillusionment abounds. This can lead to depression. This has been my story.
Assuming my friend's conclusions are correct, we must filter this through our understanding of the Bible. What can we realistically expect from our lives? God gives blessings, but in a broken world it will not be without hardships. With realistic expectations, the mismatch between desires and reality decreases. This approach of challenging ourselves does two things. Firstly, it validates that our mental illness is real. Secondly, however, it does not permit us to wallow in our suffering.
This is not about guilt. The beauty of the gospel is that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. If the increasing awareness and prevalence of depression and anxiety are true, which we must assume they are, let's consider how we can talk about it in a loving way - validating the struggle but not resigning ourselves to the hopelessness of the situation.