Questions About Clinical Depression and Religion

In the aftermath of the recent tragedy with Robin Williams, people have wrestled with the issue of depression and how that intersects with religion.  Here are some questions.

1.  Do people with clinical depression who commit suicide have no choice?  Could they have chosen differently, or did their depression push them inevitably towards the act?  Where does free will come into the picture?  Or does it?

2.  The Bible says that a fruit of the spirit is joy.  Does that mean that Christians cannot be depressed?  But there are many Christians who are.  Can they be said to have joy, somehow?

3.  Many have said that Robin Williams is in a better place now.  I read one person who questioned whether that was an appropriate thing to say—-whether that can encourage suicide because there is a pleasant afterlife awaiting us.  That’s a good question, but, ultimately, I can think of reasons to keep on living: I may be needed here, I do not want to hurt my loved ones, etc.

4.  Personally, I appreciate tips people give on how to have a positive attitude.  To someone who is clinically depressed, however, they may not be helpful.  I can only say what has worked for me.  For me, I depend on God to maintain a good attitude.  But that may not work for someone with clinical depression.  Why not?  Is God not more powerful than clinical depression?  If reliance on God does not work for everyone, how can I be sure that it will always work for me?

I hope that my questions do not come across as judgmental.  I am sincere when I say that I do not have an answer to all of these questions that is satisfactory to me.  My response to these questions is largely a blank.  I do not know where God is, when it comes to people’s clinical depression.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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5 Responses to Questions About Clinical Depression and Religion

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Good questions, James. I don’t have totally satisfactory answers, either, and I’ve had clinical depression for most of my life. I do know that most of the tips for keeping a positive attitude don’t help when I’m depressed; they usually make me feel worse because I’ve “failed” to change my attitude (and that would be one more thing I’ve “failed” at), which then can push me deeper into the depressive cycle. I try to rely on God for a good attitude because I know he’s bigger than depression, but I also keep in mind that he may be allowing me to go through a season of depression so I don’t become prideful or rely exclusively on my medications for stability. Not being able to stay mentally stable is humbling, to say the least! Still, it’s hard and I end up with more questions than answers.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on this, Laura.


  3. You ask very thoughtful questions. From the newspapers alone, everyone s reeling from the shock. I can only think that Robin Williams must have been in such dire pain, a pain that is not easily understood by those fortunate enough to not be familiar with depression. My heart hurts for Robin Williams.


  4. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Add to that the news about him having Parkinson’s. That would be hard.


  5. I agree, the poor man 😦


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