Allyson Eamer (Supplied photo)
By Allyson Eamer
THE JOHN HOPKINS Health Alerts Newsletter recently described studies which suggest that when it comes to combating depression, people with a set of regular spiritual practices and beliefs have an advantage over those who don’t. (1) This further underscores the mandate for church leaders to provide godly support and resources to parishioners with depression. As Paul Scuse, an Individual, Marriage and Family therapist, puts it:
Scripture tells us that God reaches out to us and loves us, even as we are experiencing depression. God may also bring into our life a friend who sits with us as we journey through the depression. As we experience the presence of God in the person of this friend, it can help to lessen the isolation, to lessen the feelings of guilt and shame. This can make it more possible for the depression to lift.
With the encouragement and support of Senior Pastor Canon Kim Beard, Paul and his wife Elizabeth run a course at St. Paul’s on the Hill in Pickering, Ont. entitled “A Video Workshop for the Depressed Christian.” Elizabeth Scuse is also an Individual, Marriage and Family therapist, and with her husband operates Emmaus Pastoral Counselling Services in Markham, Ont.
Elizabeth maintains that “while we do live in a fallen world, we are not defined by its sin, ours or those of anyone else around us.” She continues: “God has given us tools in order to help us cope with the effects of the brokenness in each of us (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual). Those tools, which include medical interventions, prayer, counselling, and the support of friends and family are all part of God’s redemptive work.”
Nancy Truscott, Parish Nurse at St Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto, has been offering a Dealing with Depression series since August 2011. She explains that the inertia which accompanies depression puts depressed people ‘at the end of the line’ and quotes Bill Hockin, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Fredericton, who said that “Jesus spent a lot of time at the end of the line with ‘end of the line’ people.” With the full support of Senior Pastor, Canon Barry Parker, the program continues to evolve and will be offered again on Thursday nights in April. Participants come from all walks of life – youth, men and women, people in business, people who are unemployed, caregivers, and the lonely of all ages. She indicated that participants have tended to be Christians or those having ‘a Christian memory.’
The recent fall/winter series, which I co-facilitated with Nancy, included a shared meal, discussion of sermons on suffering, the lighting of a symbolic candle, group prayer, Bible study, and strategy sharing. Truscott sees the Church as a place that must welcome people with depression, their caregivers and loved ones in order to provide the certainty that Jesus understands the depths of depression and joins us in that dark place where, for a time, it feels as though there is no light. She sums up her philosophy in the following way:
“Depressed men and women are largely silent in society. They have lost touch with their true value and worth. They feel beaten down and have little energy to devote to the day’s necessary activities. Let us not hide such people. They may be silent but we in the church need not be. We can actively listen, encourage and pray together. To recover ultimately from depression there needs to be assistance and encouragement from multiple fronts. Let us reach out to those who are depressed and feeling ‘at the end of the line.’ Let us nurture them as we all seek ‘the mystery and agency of God’s Holy Spirit,’ sure in the knowledge that we all fall short of completeness and are in need of heavenly intervention.”
Recently, in the Dealing with Depression series at St Paul’s, we composed a psalm modeled on Psalm 22 in which David cries in lament but then takes heart by reminding himself of God’s faithfulness. We began by each contributing a description of how we feel in the darkness of depression. We followed that by each stating one characteristic of God that we believe to be true. As co-facilitator, I then compiled and sequenced our contributions to create the collaboratively composed Psalm below. As you read it, please remember that these are real words articulated by ordinary people who look just like you, who sit in a pew each Sunday, who endure immeasurable suffering but who sought and received help from the Church. How are we doing as Anglicans at ministering to those with depression? How are we doing as church leaders in supporting people with depression? It just may be time to take stock.
The Psalm of the Depressed
Hear my prayer Oh Lord!
My days are sad and I am filled with my loss.
Others suffer and still feel your closeness,
but I am separated from you, God.
I see only suffering around me and I am desolate.
I see no reason to keep going.
An overwhelming heaviness sits in my body.
Death is the only comfort I imagine.
I have lost everything.
Am I being punished?
Do you hate me God?
But still you sit on the throne
And still I am here.
You do not afflict me willfully.
You take no pleasure in my suffering, but you promise to give it purpose.
You are always present. I am not alone. Your timing is perfect.
You brought me to this place and you will see me through.
I know that you alone are the one in whom I must place my trust.
Oh Lord you have made us from the beginning.
You blew the breath of life into Adam and I am a part of your creation.
I will turn back to you for you give my life purpose.
I long to make you happy. My heart longs to please you.
Keep my eyes focussed on you. You alone can help me.
I surrender to your will and your mighty power. TAP
See also “Depression: Finding God in the Black Hole” opposite on page 4.