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On faith: Mental health

Susan Berge

Knife River Lutheran Church

May is Mental Health Month, but mental health issues are nothing new. Roughly 2000 years ago, David cried out in lament to God: “Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?” These are words from Psalm 42, but they may be words that seem to express the state of our souls in the present for many. Many may feel heavy-hearted and their souls may be disquieted right now.

I say this because of the type of connections I’ve had recently with a whole variety of people: parishioners, family members and friends. A lot of folks seem to be struggling with depression right now. Even area physicians comment that the number of people seeking assistance with depression has been unusually high, and local news programs have run stories on it, too. In all honesty, it’s been a depressing winter and spring, hasn’t it? There has been unrelenting cold, gray skies and snow that made traveling difficult and increased isolation. Even now, with spring at times evident, we also still deal with lake winds made extra chilly by ice packs that may last into June, and what seems like way too many rainy, dreary days. And as one of my church members pointed out, with the coming of spring and summer, it is predicted that we may have an invasion of army worms—-hardly glad news for those who feel like they’ve survived an unusually difficult seasons this year already! Add the usual challenges of life into this mix, and it’s no wonder that depression can be a result.

But wait, we might think, surely faithful people are immune to depression? Surely those who have known the grace of God are able to rise above such negative feelings? This is a huge misconception! Few were more filled with faith in God than David, and yet He is likely the author of the 42nd psalm I’ve quoted. Being a practicing Christian is no guarantee of freedom from depression, any more than it is a guarantee of being free from cancer or diabetes. Regardless of our faith or our lack thereof, we can fall victim to depression. And if that should happen, seeking treatment is as eminently sensible as it would be to seek treatment for cancer or diabetes.

One of the many ways in which Scriptures, particularly the psalms, bless us

is by honestly recording the realities of human life. We can discover psalms expressing joy, sorrow, anger, despair, happiness, comfort and the whole gamut of human experience. Sometimes we too quickly pass over the psalms of lament for the psalms of praise but both are genuine parts of our lives and God is present in both lament and praise. Just as the psalms and other Scriptures reflect that life has some bleak moments, so we should also acknowledge this. As the community of the faithful, we look to embrace people in their pain, not induce guilt or feelings of unworthiness for having this type of pain in the first place.

While Psalm 42 honestly expresses depression, it also witnesses to hope. The verse I’ve quoted is followed by this verse: “Trust in God, for I will yet again praise Him, my help and my God.” God is with us in our depression as surely as in any other illness or sorrow. And God can work towards healing for us through medication, counseling, exercise, nutrition, fellowship and prayer. There is no shame in struggling with depression or any mental illness, and God always presents to us a future of hope.