Did you know that technically it is illegal for the Church of England to conduct a funeral service for someone who has committed suicide?
Depression and the church’s fuzzy approach.
How do we work together to overcome blurred thinking?
I am not pretending to have any answers but wondered if this is something that the church needs to start tackling more pro-actively – not curing, not sorting, not fixing but by listening, by taking seriously and by engaging intelligently with the depression that grips many of the people in our congregations and increasingly clergy themselves too.
According to the World Health Organization, over 121 million people on this planet have struggled with a depressive disorder. As many as 850,000 people worldwide commit suicide each year. We were all struck by the suicide of Gary Speed which had friends and colleagues aghast at how this could have occurred with Gary having only given an interview a few hours before in which he seemed to be on top-form and making plans for the future. That is what the radio broadcasts explored that I listened to as the news broke. Many people in the public eye suffer from depression: actresses Vivien Leigh, Kristy McNichol and Linda Hamilton, and comedians Ben Stiller and Stephen Fry who is very open about suffering from bi-polar. Marilyn Monroe is thought to have struggled with this disorder too.
According to a Grove booklet: Ebook version: P 123 Suicide and the Church: A Pastoral Theology, someone commits suicide in the UK every 85 minutes and men are less likely than women to give any indications of struggles beforehand, alerting people to their condition.
Carrie Grant spoke very powerfully about postnatal depression at New Wine last year and so charismatic expressions of church are recovering a sense of the need to engage with these issues.
David Parker also preached about depression last year in the morning sessions.
I have been wondering of late how our churches tackle depression and particularly how charismatic theology engages with depression. Where it is triumphalistic it can damage, where it engages in spiritual warfare approaches to depression, it can also do damage.
I posted a quote from a preacher on facebook without accrediting it to the person who said it, to protect him (perhaps an error to have not set more of a context.) It was interesting to see responses flood in. I anticipated that this might have been the case. I am open about being a charismatic and so I suspected that people would think it was my own reflection that I was posting.
The preacher said:
"I have had many opportunities to get depressed – I just do not take them."
The congregation seemed to cheer in response to the preacher’s claim. This is just that kind of triumphalism that can lead many in our churches to abandon church, suspecting that within it there is no room for them. Mike Parsons in the book linked to earlier says,
‘Our desire to share the joy of our Easter faith, the joy of resurrection life, can lead us to a false and ‘ersatz’spirituality… Most of our congregations can tell us this is wrong, viscerally, deep in their bodies, but in so many cases we have never allowed the darkness to be expressed and owned. Rejoicing in resurrection hope is great; but we have to go through both Friday and Saturday before Sunday comes. Sometimes we need to say, ‘It’s Saturday—just let us stay there a bit to realize how it really feels.’ Then maybe we have some insight …’
There are many types of depression. The most common is clinical depression but there are many others, postpartum depression, holiday depression, reactive depression, manic depression, and many others.
A few weeks ago, I hit rock-bottom, prompted by something and nothing. It obviously triggered other stuff. I took my feelings to a friend and spent an afternoon with head in hands on a bench and then needed to talk issues through for a few days with who ever would listen really. We all tackle depression differently and maybe this was not depression, it passed rather quickly. Depression can take a range of forms. As church, we need to keep talking about depression, working through the biblical models that are helpful and being careful where the wrong application of biblical models can be damaging.
Parsons says churches that cope better with depression are those that are
- genuinely inclusive and is very careful about the use of the word ‘family’ in its worship and publicity.
- work hard at involving single people of all ages.
- own and acknowledge brokenness and failure in its members as well as deliverance and new life.
- teach a doctrine of hope that recognizes that the kingdom is both ‘now’ and ‘not yet.’
- take Holy Saturday seriously and that can carry the Christ light for others when they need it.
- will weep, and in its worship, be a church that has learnt how to lament as well as to praise.
Some books that might be helpful are:
Life on the dark side of the cross: supporting depressed people
A series of articles from a blog on the subject ( I do not endorse it all). Some of it might prove helpful.
Other helpful books:
Ebook version: P 125 Understanding Self-harm: A Biblical Model for Encouraging Recovery
Ebook version: P 123 Suicide and the Church: A Pastoral Theology
Ebook version: P 120 Ministry Burnout
Papyrus is an organisation that educates about youth suicide.