Depression is Not Sin

Often times I hear from those who come from some type of religious background that depression was explained from a perspective that either had to do with avoiding sin or being influenced by a diabolical power. These are concerning narratives, and I would like to offer a respectful challenge.

Mental health disorders are medical issues. There are genetic, biological, environmental, psychological and social/cultural factors that go into these types of diagnoses that are complex and almost impossible to completely unravel.

Would we be comfortable saying that 'Satan" or "sin" control such things as diabetes, cancer, or the fact that a broken limb occurred? We don’t typically speak of physical ailments in the same way we feel comfortable speaking of psychological ailments in church settings.

Even if you include the belief of a satanic being as part of your doctrinal understandings – it has always been my experience that giving him credit for things, especially when he is given power of being “in your head,” only gives him (or the idea of him) more power. Satan is a scary figure – a figure that provokes fear and anxiety in of itself. And fear and anxiety are no friends of clinical disorders such as depression and general anxiety diagnoses.

Even if it makes sense to a believer that Satan rejoices when we suffer – having something affect you on a daily basis that you then give Satan credit for, is psychologically powerful in a way that is harmful and unproductive. The trend then often becomes a self-blaming one. What am I doing or not doing that allows Satan to have such an influence in my life? And that type of thinking exacerbates problems. So much of the cognitive/behavioral work done in therapy is exactly about learning how to do the opposite of this and combat thinking errors. If you have a predisposition to depression, Satan has nothing to do with it.

I would much rather have a discussion along the lines of normalizing ailments. And this fits very well into most religious doctrine. We live in an imperfect world. Most religions see pain and struggling as a part of our mortal experience. Most religions see God as a loving entity concerned with our wellbeing and willing to comfort. Most religions are supportive of medical interventions. And we have effective treatments that include everything from medicine, talk therapy, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, hypnosis, EMDR, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), etc. that can help us manage clinical depression and lead productive lives. Most religions make space for the concept of grace. So even when we hit plateaus, take steps backwards, or feel like progress in not being made, we can look towards our spirituality as a place of comfort and solace – not fear and anxiety.

Even if you no longer have a relationship with the faith of your upbringing... if these types of messages were part of how you were taught... you may still be internalizing unnecessary responsibility for the symptoms you are suffering from.

Religious or not, please get the professional help you need to successfully manage something as complex and life altering as clinical depression.

Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST has been in practice as a mental health professional for over 20 years, primarily working with issues of relational health, faith transitions and journeys, and sexuality. She writes a blog called "The Mormon Therapist," and hosts the podcasts "Mormon Mental Health," and "Mormon Sex Info." She also produces "Sex Talk with Natasha."

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