Biologically based sadness

Church people are sometimes well-intentioned but hurtful when they approach all discouragement as a matter of simple obedience to the Lord.

Discouraged people often need words of encouragement and even admonishments. Yet we risk doing more harm than good if we always approach sadness and despair as merely matters of choice. Some kinds of sadness have physical causes that cannot be adequately managed by choosing to see things differently. Biologically based depression cannot be treated exactly the same way as intense normal sadness.

The following one-liners are sometimes thoughtlessly spoken to discouraged people:

  • “Just cheer up!”
  • “Don’t be so negative!”
  • “You have a lot to be thankful for!”
  • “Complaining is a sin!”
  • “Do you think God owes you a better life?”

The key to helping someone who is battling despair is to patiently ask caring questions about their struggles. Seek to understand the full picture before handing out advice. Don’t be too hasty to launch advice at people in ways that are not helpful and perhaps serve our egos more than their needs.

Please remember that the brain is perhaps the most complex human organ. A good friend of mine is a neurophysiologist and, more than once, I’ve consulted with him about the neurological challenges people experience. He fully affirms that (like all other organs), the brain doesn’t always function in health producing ways. Relatively recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience have provided hope for those who suffer with neurological issues like depression.

I am grateful for the medicines available to assist those who struggle with depression. And those who benefit from such medications must never be made to feel embarrassed about it. They are no different from those who take medications for deficiencies in other bodily organs. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, but woefully and tragically fallen.

Those who battle prolonged and debilitating depression that negatively affects their daily lives and relationships should be directed to seek medical counsel. They should also be encouraged to be open to the possibility of medicinal aid.

Yet medicinal aid must never be understood as the total solution to depression. We are more than bodies with physical needs. The other dimensions of our being (spiritual, emotional, psychological and social) must receive thoughtful attention in our battle for health. A holistic approach respects all the dimensions of personhood created by God.

Steve Cornell

See also:

This entry was posted in Addiction, ADHD, Anger, Anxiety, Attitude, Burnout, Counseling, Depression, Despair, Drug addiction, Guilt, Hope?, Medicine, Neuroscience and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Biologically based sadness

  1. Are you familiar with my friends Steve and Robyn Bloem and their book, Broken Minds: Hope For Healing When You Feel Like You’re “Losing It” (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005); on Amazon at
    http://www.amazon.com/Broken-Minds-Healing-Youre-Losing/dp/0825421187. Steve blogs at http://sbloemreflections.blogspot.com/ [accessed 17 AUG 2013]. I am going to be sure that Steve and Rbbyn see your blog post. I believe that it will be an encouragement to them as the conclusions taught in their ministry and reflected in the material in their book are not widely understood or popularly held.

  2. Also see Steve and Robyn Bloem’s Heartfelt Counseling Ministries at http://www.heartfeltmin.org/ [accessed 17 AUG 2013]. I think that they would be encouraged by your blog post so I forwarded the link to Steve. Too few of those in ministry grasp what you have expressed in this post.

  3. Steve says:

    Steve, I have read few some of your blogs and I appreciate your sensitivity to people who have mental illness. I found out the difference between depression and normal sadness the hard way.
    I had been depressed for fifteen years and was on antidepressants and mood stabilizers when I was an eye witness (along with my family) to the fatal car accident which killed our daughter Lindsay and our granddaughter Emily Hope who was fully formed in the womb. The Post traumatic stress and sorrow were horrible. But it was different than depression. I heard Kay Jamison talk about the difference between her bipolar and the sadness she experienced after her husband died. It was very good.
    My wife Robyn and I have an online support group for Christians who have mental illness. You can be part of a group, sharing, praying and having fellowship while in your own home. Please check out my blog that deals with the difference between normal sadness and the sadness that is part of biological depression. http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=2884189586824237481#editor/target=post;postID=2975198245518112240;onPublishedMenu=overviewstats;onClosedMenu=overviewstats;postNum=44;src=link
    God bless you,
    Steve and Robyn Bloem
    Co- Author of Broken Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel like You’re Losing It and CAMI (Christians Afflicted with Mental Illness Study/starter guide and Leaders Guides.

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