I grew up during the ’90s grunge band era, and with last week’s death of Chris Cornell, my two favorite voices from that movement (the other being Kurt Cobain) have now been lost to suicide. Even more tragic is that Cobain and Cornell are only two names on the ever-growing list of celebrity suicides, a painful reminder that depression is no respecter of money and fame.
Yet, despite the multitude of public deaths, depression remains largely stigmatized in our society, leaving the majority of sufferers isolated and alone in the struggle. Compounding the problem is the debate on how exactly to address it. Essentially there are three schools of thought when it comes to treating depression: the medical, the therapeutic and the spiritual.
Medical: By far the most popular approach in our society is to consult a doctor. Depression/anxiety is caused by a neurological imbalance, and medicine should be taken to correct the imbalance.
Therapy: Another approach is to consult a counselor. Depression/anxiety is rooted in your story. Trauma from your past has led to your struggle, and the wounds need to be discovered, processed and healed.
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Spiritual: A popular approach among religious individuals is to consult a minister. Depression/anxiety is the fruit of spiritual unhealth, and the pathway to healing is through repentance.
So which is it? A neurological issue, past trauma or sinful consequences? Do you need a doctor, a therapist or a minister? The answer is yes.
This is an incredibly complex struggle that necessitates an equally complex approach. A biblical worldview sees human beings as physical creatures (medical implications), formed by experiences in this world (therapeutic implications), with a fallen proclivity to sin (spiritual implications).
In other words, we are just one big complicated mess.
Therefore, when it comes to depression, we must be very wary of oversimplification. Well-intended people often will emphasize one of these three approaches to the exclusion of the others. But in reality, the depressed need all three. That’s not to say that all three are equally causative in every situation. Typically one is needed more than the others, but all three must be considered.
Perhaps it is an inherited imbalance from your family genetics, and for you it is primarily going to be a medical issue. Perhaps you have a history of horrific abuse, and for you it is primarily going to be a therapy issue. Perhaps you have a besetting issue of immorality such as substance abuse, and for you it is primarily going to be a repentance issue.
But always the three are interconnected, because the three cannot be separated within your personhood. This means all three must be considered and assessed with the help of an expert in each area.
I once experienced a season of crippling anxiety. It was the most difficult time of my life, but I now bless God for the way it humbled me and enabled me to empathize and minister to the hurting. My journey out of it involved a trusted doctor, a trusted counselor and trusted pastors.
My doctor helped me see that my diet, exercise and sleep were horrible and needed to change immediately, and yes, he prescribed me medication to help get me out of the dark hole I was in.
My counselor helped me see past trauma, ways that I had been wounded that needed to be processed, lamented, forgiven and healed. And my fellow pastors helped me see how sinful patterns in my life were playing into my breakdown and helped me accept the grace of Jesus, while holding me accountable to my repentance.
I truly believe that if I had neglected any of these three areas, I would not be experiencing the measure of freedom I am today.
I am praying that Cornell’s death will be as sobering as it is tragic, particularly for those who can relate to his struggle. If that is you, then I want you to know that the fatalistic whispers of your condition are lying to you. There actually is hope, but hope is found in a holistic fight. Reject overly simplistic solutions and embrace a complex approach to your very complex struggle.
The Rev. Robert Cunningham is senior pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.