This summer, a Christian guy I know (and once knew a lot better) committed suicide. How do you process something like that? What terrible place did he reach that he felt he had to end his life to escape ‘the darkness’ (his words) that surrounded him? Where was his God when he cried out in pain – and why did he not feel able to reach out and tell anyone before life became unbearable? He was from a loving Christian family, and was part of a vibrant, active church – and yet he didn’t feel able to share his pain with anyone while he was alive.
It’s time that we acknowledge a big problem – a gap in the Church’s support (or even acknowledgement) that men struggle with depression too. Over the last few years, some fantastic books have been written by women (for women) on the topic of Christian life and depression or eating disorders – but men have not yet received the same kind of support.
Perhaps it comes down to the same old perceptions of what men and women struggle with – so often, Church pastoral work and accountability seems to focus on sex for men and self-image for women.
Perhaps it is a leftover of the ‘stiff-upper lip’ stereotype; men don’t feel able to explain how they are feeling because they don’t think they should. Perhaps it’s a lack of awareness about what depression is actually like – they don’t recognise that they are sick, and so don’t seek help.
Perhaps it is also the result of a slightly warped view of the biblical roles of manhood and womanhood, leaving men feeling as though they need to be strong and servant-hearted, and should be the ones looking after the women, not struggling with supposedly ‘feminine’ issues themselves.
Whatever the case, something needs to change for men in the Church. They don’t all have to start talking about their feelings, but they should certainly know that they are able to if they need help.
Is mental ill health the great unspeakable sin for men? There are two problems with such a view.
- Poor mental health is not a sin, it is a sickness. It is not always (or even often) associated with spiritual weakness.
- No sin should be unspeakable if we are relying on the grace of God and not our own strength. As Paul wrote, ‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (2 Cor. 11:30). It is in weakness that ‘the power of Christ may dwell in me.’ (2 Cor. 12:9)
Hannah blogs regularly over at http://purposefulpurity.blogspot.co.uk.