Black, Christian, and Depressed

Many people suffer from depression in silence. Some do not understand that what they are experiencing is depression; they believe that because they get up and go to work every day that they are not depressed. Others recognize it but do not seek out help because they worry about the stigma of being depressed and/or how they will be perceived by others for seeking help. Then there are still others who are afraid to seek help because they are afraid of what might be uncovered. There is a sense that some things are best left alone.

Some have a history of trauma (e.g., growing up in a home with violence or neglect, being in an abusive relationship, living with a parent who abused drugs or alcohol, experienced sexual abuse, have been impacted by racism and other -isms related to intersectional identities) that has not been acknowledged or dealt with. Unresolved trauma creates a breeding ground for depression. For Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, there is even greater stress managing the multiple facets of racism experienced in the workplace, healthcare, and even doing basic tasks such as driving, walking our neighborhoods, and shopping.

As a Black woman I can speak to the experience of existing in spaces where I have been expected to be the Strong Black Woman. The woman who does it all without complaining, takes on the additional tasks in the workplace with a smile, and takes responsibility for caregiving in the household and beyond. At various times in my life, I internalized that schema, and bought into the idea that it was my responsibility to do all of those things. This schema has helped me to be resilient in challenging circumstances and excel professionally. It has also been a detriment to my emotional well-being at times. In my effort to be strong and carry the extra burden for myself and others, there has been little space for my sadness, fatigue, pain, self-care, or my need to be taken care of by others. This experience likely resonates with many Black women and may be part of how the depression manifests.

Black men have their own circumstances with which they contend. They may repeatedly feel as though they have to prove their worth, in the workplace and even sometimes in their own homes. Their very presence sparks fear in those who do not know them and cannot see beyond their strong stature and brown skin to see their heart, spirit, and brilliant mind. They may not feel heard or respected in the spaces in which they dwell, through no fault of their own, but circumstances beyond their control. Depression for them may not manifest is sadness, but rather in irritability, frustration, social withdrawal, and overuse of substances.

As a therapist, I understand the therapeutic processes that help us heal from depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health concerns. It is important to note; however, that before any intervention can take place, we must each acknowledge that there is a part of our life that is not working, and that may in fact be hurting us. There must also be a willingness to confront those things and try something different, no matter how scary or difficult it may be. Additionally, accessing available support that is healthy and replenishing is necessary. It seems simple, but anyone who has been in therapy, or completed these tasks via self-help knows it is not easy. When we consider a person’s faith as part of how they think about mental health and well-being, we add another layer of complexity.

As a Christian, I can speak to the idea of praying your way through a difficult situation and recognizing that part of the battle is spiritual rather than secular. I have myself used biblical study as a means for getting through challenging situations. My memoir is a testimony about how I used my faith to get through pregnancy complications and loss. So, the question that some Black Christians may ask is, if I am solid in my faith, should I not trust God to get me through these difficult seasons? Do I lack faith if I utilize resources other than my direct prayer line to God to get by? Am I saying that God is not enough if I accept sources of support beyond prayer and studying the Word?

Do I really believe that someone other than God is capable of helping me through my pain? After all, the Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It also says, “Be anxious for nothing, but by prayer and petition, make your requests known to God.” We just need to focus on these scriptures, right? We just have to be patient. But what if we do all of these things and our mood and functioning do not improve? Does it mean we have we not prayed hard enough? Do we just need to wait patiently for the Lord to move?

We have not sinned or shown a lack in faith if we use all of God’s resources to help reach a place of emotional wellness. God gave us biblical scriptures, gospel music, prayer, and praise as tools of worship and vehicles for coping with tough times. He also gave us professionals with extensive training and resources to help us improve our mental health. He gave us providers with an understanding of science and medicine to support our physical health and our emotional health. It sounds cliché, but a Christian can use prayer and therapy and still be highly functioning in their faith. Because depression is a medical condition that changes the chemistry and functioning in the brain, creating balance in the brain requires consistent strategies for challenging negative thoughts, involvement in activities that instill hope, use of positive social support for accountability, and encouragement of self-care.

For some, this comes by way of therapy or antidepressant therapy, for others it may involve journaling and other creative outlets, as well as exercise, involvement in support groups, and consistent practices of challenging negativity. For the Believer using scripture and prayer as tools for combatting depression are essential. For most, this will not be adequate for managing symptoms and improving functioning. As such, spiritual resources and the use of other strategies are optimal.

So, how do you find the resources that make the most sense for you? It is important to start by finding a trusted person to talk to, who can advise you on your options. That can be your primary care doctor, a therapist, a close friend who understands depression, or clergy supportive of the full range of God’s resources available to us to manage our mental health. Try to get a direct referral for therapy if this is the route you choose. A warm handoff to a therapist or medication prescriber makes the process easier and allows for greater accountability. If you do not have access to any of those resources, call a 24-hour crisis hotline. They will help you access the support you need.

Continue to pray and use the strategies that have always helped you through challenging times and seek to integrate other new strategies. Everyone benefits from increasing physical activity and monitoring their diet, especially limiting excess sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. The blessing in all of this is that we can use those tried-and-true spiritual resources that some of us grew up using, in addition to developing new strategies for maintaining our mental health. It can be likened to adding a little new school music to our traditional hymn list. It is not always the thing we feel most comfortable with, but many of us recognize both have something to offer.