The Depression Epidemic Revisited

[Today’s guest post is written by Jonathan Holmes, counseling pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio.]

Recently, Christianity Today linked to an article by Dan Blazer, which was originally part of a larger issue (March 2009- The Depression Epidemic). Four years later, one can read this article and see that there is still much work to be done in this area of thinking and caring wisely for those struggling with depression.

Blazer notes that the World Health Organization (WHO) named “depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years.”  If the statistic’s trajectory remains the same, then we have approximately six years before the WHO’s prophecy becomes reality.

Much of what Blazer wrote was helpful and got me thinking. Other aspects of the article raised additional questions that hopefully will continue to be worked through by both pastors and counselors. Blazer begins by saying, “Humans are intricately complex creatures. When things go wrong in us, they do so in myriad and nuanced ways. If churches want to effectively minister to the whole of fallen humanity, they must reckon with this complexity. Depression indicates that something is amiss. But what? And what should churches be doing about it?”

A wise counselor would resonate with this, and yet perhaps the biblical counseling community has not communicated well enough that far from being reductionistic in our understanding of body/soul issues we too agree that “humans are intricately complex creatures” and that “depression indicates that something is amiss.”  In fact the Confessional Statement of the Biblical Counseling Coalition states:

 We believe that biblical counseling should focus on the full range of human nature created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). A comprehensive biblical understanding sees human beings as relational (spiritual and social), rational, volitional, emotional, and physical. Wise counseling takes the whole person seriously in his or her whole life context. It helps people to embrace all of life face-to-face with Christ so they become more like Christ in their relationships, thoughts, motivations, behaviors, and emotions.

Blazer goes on in the article to recognize that, “[The] clinical definition is sterile, however, and fails to capture the unique quality of the severely depressed person’s suffering. Deep depression is embodied emotional suffering.” (emphasis by author).

Under the heading, “Shrunken Humanity” Blazer makes what I believe is his most helpful argument in favor of a redemptive, Christ-centered approach to depression.  He writes, “Yet redefining depression broadly as a disease has some untoward consequences. This [disease] model rightly acknowledges the biological aspect of human nature and how it can become disordered. But it fails to consider other dimensions at play. For example, the disease model ignores social environments as possible contributors to depression, viewing depressed persons as isolated individuals with a strong boundary between their bodies and everything outside. Depressed persons are reduced to broken bodies and brains that need fixing.”

Blazer’s last statement is incredibly helpful and revealing.  If one goes with the disease/medical model for not only the issue of depression, but also any of the other psychiatric disorders the person who you are seeking to help is helplessly reduced to nothing but a broken body.  In short, the medical model of depression reduces personhood and the image of Christ in man.  At the end of the day if you’re just a bundle of nerves, synapses and chromosomes then it slowly squeezes out any opportunity for the spiritual and for the church to wisely come alongside and help those who are struggling. He continues,

The medical models come up short because they can only go as far as their understanding of the subject of the problem will take them. And both slight their subject: human beings. Cultural institutions and authorities may sometimes treat human beings as if we are nothing but brains in bodies, but this does not make it so. For those with eyes to see, the depression epidemic is in part a witness to the complexity of human nature. In particular, it reminds us that we are social and spiritual (as well as physical) creatures, and that a fallen society’s afflictions are often inscribed on the bodies of its members.

As Blazer notes, the medical models do come up short and slight their subject: human beings, but would we also agree that the mere disease/medical model slights God insofar as he is now removed from any part or process of change and growth.  God as creator, sustainer, refuge, harbor and Immanuel for the depressed now becomes something more as an afterthought, rather than the first place to turn.

[To read more articles by Jonathan Holmes please visit the Biblical Counseling Coalition site here.]

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