Expert on depression, anxiety explains how struggling Christians can begin to find hope

Unsplash/Samuel Martins
Unsplash/Samuel Martins

A Christian clinical psychologist stressed the need for churches to better understand depression and anxiety, especially among fellow believers. 

Jason Jimenez, the founder of Stand Strong Ministries and faculty member at Summit Ministries, recently spoke with licensed clinical psychologist JoAnna Dias on his “Challenging Conversations” podcast, where she stressed the need to recognize the difference between a clinically diagnosed depression and anxiety versus feeling a little downcast on occasion. 

“We all get sad. We all have down days or we have things happen to us,” Dias explained. "It's natural to feel grieved, and there is a difference between that normal grieving, which is very painful, and what we would describe as depression. Depression comes more with that persistent low mood and feelings of low self-worth. And it's really impacting day-to-day life.

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“It is just really hard, very tearful," she said, "and some people, not everybody, but some people do think about suicide or think about ending their lives. And so, that can feel really hard and painful. And so, yes, we all go through some down days. But there's an additional kind of despair and heaviness that comes with that clinical depression.” 

Dias, who describes herself as an "older millennial," said each generation experiences depression or severe anxiety in different ways. 

“I think there's a lot more older people who are anxious than maybe there might have been in the past. I think when we have that [older] generation, they had most of their stresses during the world wars, and then life sort of evened out for them a little bit as they got older,” Dias said.  “A lot of baby boomers are starting to feel stressed because they're seeing their retirement shrinking down or the cost of living eating at some of that, and so they're stressed." 

Listen to the "Challenging Conversations" podcast on edifi 

Dias said when it comes to younger generations, such as Gen Z, a lot of the mental health challenges facing them today stem from what can be viewed on social media.

“I think [Gen Zers] have a lot of uncertainty because they're, in some ways, I think they can be a little bit of in a silo where they're only hearing what's happening on social media or with their friends. That's probably been true of all generations, but it's amplified because of things like TikTok,” Dias noted.

“It seems like, a lot of times, they think the world is happening a certain way because they see people, influencers, on TikTok doing certain things," Dias said, noting that some of her clients wonder if everyone is doing the things they see on TikTok or only the people seeking attention and clicks. "There can be some isolation for the younger generation,” she added. 

Dias added that people who struggle with clinically diagnosed depression and anxiety who are Christian can have an "anchor" in Jesus Christ, whereas those without faith might experience more challenges in overcoming mental health issues. 

“There isn't an anchor for those who don't have a faith and if you don't have an Anchor, you don't have anything to fall back on when life gets stressful,” Dias said. 

“A lot of my clients, I'll talk with them about existential issues or different questions that they might have about life. But what's beautiful about a client that’s bringing their faith in is, I can encourage them to find that identity and find that hope in Jesus. The clients that don't have that really struggle because they have to find something that feels big enough for them to find hope and faith in."

Dias added that some older Americans were told, "‘don't feel your feelings, just muscle it out with Jesus. Be a good Christian. Make sure your behavior is aligned with the Bible.’ But they weren't taught it was OK to have an emotional experience.” 

Dias added that having emotional experiences are “part of that relational dynamic that we build with Jesus when we're working out our faith, working out our salvation that the Bible talks about.” 

“A huge part of that is bringing to the Lord. ‘God, I can't do this.’ It's that Romans 7 struggle. ‘I can't do what I want to do.’ And so, rather than what I think we've been told in past generations, to just ‘turn that off,’ just ‘keep going,’ there's this invitation instead of ‘Lord, how can I be with you? How can I let you be with me? And how can I let your Holy Spirit empower me so that I can reflect more of you?' she noted. 'But not just because I'm fighting it through, but because you're with me and you are the one healing my heart and giving me the power to do, to live a holy life that I wouldn't be able to do apart from the Holy Spirit.'”  

Dias also emphasized the need for greater awareness and support within the Christian community to help individuals navigate mental health challenges and find healing.

The psychologist also highlighted the importance of addressing mental health issues through a faith-based approach, avoiding stigma and recognizing that mental health struggles are not a sign of weakness but rather a sign that someone needs help.

“We don't always understand it," Dias said. "The best thing for us to do is to listen, and even as I say that I think many people fear feeling overwhelmed by somebody."

She added that people need "boundaried-love," namely, "how can I give this person a little bit of myself?" But then add, "Hey, let me get you some other resources. Let me get you connected with a therapist. Let me get you connected with a pastor who can help."

“A mentor, a book to read, a podcast to listen to, something that can be supportive to that person, because a big part of it is just helping them to feel accepted and know that it's OK to be where they're at,” she continued.  

“When people are clinically depressed, I think there is sort of this feeling like, ‘I don't have the patience to deal with that.’ And that is understandable. Or even people that are highly anxious, we can feel the same way. I think the more that we can just sort of offer what we can and with as much grace as we can, and then also feel, OK, to gently and kindly put some boundaries around what we can offer.”

Nicole VanDyke is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

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