Suicide is “losing the battle, but still winning the war,” as some have put it.

Even if we properly regard suicide as a pardonable sin, however, many of us also assume all depression to be sinful. Both depression’s victims and scoffers usually assume that some failure of faith is the convenient excuse for not “snapping out of it.” And when medical causes do get linked with depression, its victims automatically become branded as psychotic and irrational.

Society won’t give depressed people a break!

After Adam Lanza’s horrific slaughter in newtown, connecticut, politicians and media wonks began calling for national mental patient databases, as if only one form of mental illness exists, and all mental patients were potential mass murderers. Fortunately, common sense has stalled this knee-jerk reaction and invasion of privacy. Still, the rush to a rash judgment illustrates how misunderstood mental illness is, and the ease with which many people accept the notion that its victims are second-class citizens.

Diagnosing Christian Counseling and Nouthetic/Biblical Therapy

Further complicating things is that depression can be mis-diagnosed. Having a blue funk for a few days is not the same kind of depression that can cripple an otherwise bright and productive person. Even being diagnosed with clinical depression, and fighting it for a season of a few months to a few years, is not the same kind of depression as chronic clinical depression, which can last a person’s entire life, and become profoundly debilitating.

Then there’s the silent battle over depression’s treatment being waged in many churches, para-church ministries, and Christian counseling organizations. This silent battle is between two well-meaning schools of thought. The most popular treatment involves conventional Christian counselors who employ a psychiatric type of therapy dominated by evangelical doctrine, plus medicine and scientific theory. The more controversial approach is called Nouthetic, or “Biblical,” counseling, which, aside from its name’s confusing insinuation of superiority, dismisses most conventional psychiatry and medical remedies in favor of theological analyses and confrontations with a patient’s sin nature.  

Conventional Christian counselors generally worry that Nouthetic/Biblical counseling can be too simplistic, aggressive, and medically dangerous, while Nouthetic/Biblical advocates accuse Christian counseling as being too secular, ponderous, and tolerant. Adding insult to injury is the likelihood that churches and Christian media outlets wanting to provide helpful resources on this topic seem unaware of how diverse these treatment philosophies are, and either try to combine them, or inadvertently advance one at the expense of the other.

Meanwhile, unless a counselor of either the Christian or Nouthetic/Biblical philosophies has personally experienced rock-bottom chronic clinical depression, they’re likely not fully aware of what their patients are experiencing on a daily basis. Which doesn’t help them or anybody else appreciate the genuine medical, emotional, and spiritual challenges confronting people struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies.

After all, with genuine clinical depression, we're not talking about a condition that can be objectively diagnosed, treated, and even prevented like a broken arm or even some forms of cancer. We're talking about screwed-up chemicals in the brain, imbalanced to an extreme, for which a cure might be measured in stages. Artificial functionality achieved through prescription medications may be derided by people who don’t suffer from clinical depression, but for the condition’s patients, it can be the difference between life and death.