There are still ignorant people who maintain that depression is just the result of a personal character weakness, and therefore is just one’s own fault. They ignore all modern research into the complex causes and mechanisms of depression. By claiming that this “weakness” can easily be corrected by a simple change of attitude, in fact they only make matters worse by grotesquely stigmatizing everyone who suffers from depression.
Some people make matters even worse by perversely distorting and misusing religion to corroborate such primitive views. Of course I won’t deny that for many of us, religion can be a source of comfort and support. Sure! But these fanatics turn religion into a kind of Snake Oil that is supposed to forcefully and instantly drive out the Devil of Depression.
One of them is the English evangelist Malcolm Bowden, who recently was interviewed on TV about his bigoted views on depression (and other forms of mental illness, including schizophrenia).
On his website, he claims that depression is just the consequence of patients having “taken one or more evasive and bad decisions that are rooted in their pride, self-centredness and self-pity. [...] Their basic problem is their wrong attitude to life and the problems are of their own making.”
Well, Bowden’s unique “True Biblical Counseling” will solve all problems! But in fact, it will of course make things only worse: by not taking depression seriously and by reinforcing negative, unnecessary feelings of guilt.
I’m glad I don’t need to go further into all this because yesterday, Emily Band wrote an excellent article in The Guardian newspaper about Bowden and his caricatural, prejudiced and (my addition) potentially life-endangering views. You can find her article here: Sorry, but Christianity doesn’t cure depression. Please do read what she has to say!
I want to add only this.
Extremists like Bowden do not only fail to take depression seriously as an illness that can happen to anyone of us. They also do not take religion seriously, by distorting it, by robbing it of some of its essential core values: compassion, understanding, and true involvement with others.
Again: sure, religion can be a source of comfort and support to many of us. But in Bowden’s caricature of religion, depression becomes a kind of sin. This is a cruel distortion of religion.
Do you know what this reminds me of? It’s like someone preaching (1) “That you lost your leg when this speeding truck ran over you, is all your own fault;” and (2) “Just by repentance and prayer you can regrow your amputated leg;” and (3) “If your amputated leg doesn’t regrow, it’s because you don’t pray enough, so that’s your fault, too.”
This is not religion. This is not even respectful to religion, just as it isn’t respectful to people. This kind of thinking is more akin to the evil swindle of medieval witchcraft.
It’s high time we leave the Middle Ages behind us. Once and for all.
• tip: No one of us has chosen to be struck down by depression. A little self-criticism can certainly be constructive and enlightening; sometimes it can be good to ask yourself if there are some things you also have to blame yourself for.
But it is fundamentally wrong and very self-destructive to blame yourself for your depression as a whole.
• update. To prevent misunderstandings: of course with the metaphor I used here, I did not mean to say that severe depression is just as irreversible and definitive as an amputated leg…