This series has been kindly authorised for use by homegroups.org.uk by Imagine Christian Ministry and was written by Ian Cartwright. The full course is nine sessions or which we have four. Find out more information at https://imaginechristianministry.co.uk/
This week we are looking at one of the most common mental health diagnoses – depression. We’ll learn how God cares for and restores those he loves from the story of Elijah. And we’ll also talk about some of the causes of mental health problems.
1 Kings 19:3-15
Elijah has just had one of the most intense periods of his life—standing up against 450 prophets of Baal, calling down fire from heaven, watching as God brings a rainstorm after years of drought and famine, running 17miles ahead of a chariot, receiving a death-threat from the queen, fleeing for about 100 miles and finally finding himself alone in the wilderness!
Once Elijah is starting to feel better, God takes him to a very special place—Mount Horeb. (Another name for this place is Mount Sinai), where God met Moses, giving him the Ten Commandments and confirming His covenant with the people of Israel.
Standing in that place, Elijah would no doubt have been reminded of God’s promises and His past faithfulness. But unlike God’s appearance to Moses, which was marked by wind, fire and earthquakes, this time God comes in a gentle wind.
Finally, once Elijah is fully recovered and renewed, God gives him an important new task, thereby showing Elijah he can still be used by God.
The word depressed is a common everyday word. People might say “I’m depressed” when in fact they mean “I’m fed up because I’ve had an argument, or failed an exam” etc. These ups and downs of life are common and normal. Most people recover quite quickly. True depression means having a low mood and other symptoms each day for at least two weeks.
Symptoms can become severe enough to interfere with normal day-to-day activities. There will be low mood, loss of enjoyment and low energy. Thinking positively about the future is difficult. Sleep, as well as weight and appetite can be affected. Depression isn’t just ‘feeling a bit low’.
It can be triggered by a one-off event or by long-term unhelpful thought patterns. It could have its roots in a physical illness. Occasionally, depression may have a spiritual cause, such as struggling to accept forgiveness. Many people may never know what caused their depression. If two people have depression, it’s unlikely the cause is the same.
Depression doesn’t go away by just ‘pulling yourself together’, a combination of approaches is required. Talking treatments can help change negative thought patterns.
Antidepressants can help re-balance certain chemicals in the brain which are linked to mood and emotion. A good Christian community can help with isolation and loneliness.
Even though the word ‘depression’ is not found in the Bible, God has always helped people whose mood was low. We can stand alongside those who are suffering and hold out Jesus as the source of hope.
Matthew 5:5 says:
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Depression can cause negative thoughts, including feeling guilty, helpless or hopeless. God offers alternatives—forgiveness, love and hope. However, depression can make it hard to believe this. If others with good intentions blame past sin or a weak faith for the depression, this can make things much worse and lead to a negative spiral.
Being part of a Christian Community can be very helpful. It can be hard for someone who is depressed to attend regularly and meet people, but in a good church everyone can feel valued, no matter what. Phone calls and simple support mean a lot. You don’t need to be an expert to help.
We should pray for people with depression, but just as with physical illnesses, God doesn’t always work in ways that we expect. Sometimes God does cure people of their illnesses, but often He brings healing in other ways. It’s important to understand that if someone isn’t cured from depression, it’s never the fault of the individual for not having ‘enough faith’.
God uses many different ways to heal, including counselling and antidepressants.
Healing is a whole topic in its own right—one we will be looking at in more detail later in this study.
Looking at Elijah’s story, we see how God responds to a desperate man. He takes the initiative to give practical support – food, drink and rest. Then God gently reminds Elijah of His past faithfulness. Finally, He restores him by giving him a new task.
What causes mental health problems?
There are many factors which influence our mental health and wellbeing
from genetic and biological to social and cultural, economic and
political, and even spiritual.
Some churches would say that mental illness is often caused by spiritual activity, particularly the influence of demonic forces. Historically, all kinds of health problems were thought to be the result of demonic powers. This led to many negative repercussions, especially against disabled people and those with chronic conditions.
In physical health, that assumption has been overcome. We now believe that medical science usually reveals cause and remedy for physical health issues. But the idea has lingered in the area of mental health; some still assume the causes of mental illness are spiritual and treat medical science with scepticism.
An example that is often cited is the Gadarene man who meets with Jesus (see Matthew 8:28-34) and is made well by having a legion of demons cast out of him.
His symptoms include nakedness, cutting himself with stones, living in the tombs and violence. He is a dangerous man, strong enough to break chains. This description fits a popular but completely incorrect stereotype of schizophrenic illness. As a result, some people have made the false assumption that negative emotional symptoms are simply the result of demonic activity.
This belief can be extremely distressing for Christians who are suffering from mental health issues. A problem with their brain chemistry suddenly becomes a problem with their precious faith.
Whatever your conviction in terms of the spiritual origins of ill health, Jesus afforded dignity and humanity to every person he encountered. We should do the same.
Take a few minutes of quiet to review what we’ve heard today and to think about what to do with it, giving God the space to speak to us.
Encourage people to sit comfortably and close their eyes.
Think of a time when you felt exhausted, isolated, maybe unable to see a way forward.
O God, whose love restores the broken-hearted of this world,
pour out your love, we beseech you, upon those who feel lonely, abandoned, or unloved.
Strengthen their hope to meet the days ahead; give them the courage
to form life-giving friendships; and bless them with the joy of your eternal peace.
Vienna Cobb Anderson