Depression is an Illness, Not a Sin

November 4, 2011 Jack Smith

Depression is an illness. It is not a sin.

Some well-meaning Christians who have never experienced depression might tell us otherwise. They might tell us we’ll feel better if we just have more faith. They might even tell us that God has the power to heal our depression, so antidepressants aren’t necessary.

That is a dangerous and shallow view of mental illness.

Prayer Alone Won't Cure Depression

While I believe prayer can result in miracles, many times it doesn’t. Clinical depression often, if not always, needs to be treated by a medical professional.

To be sure, prayer can help relieve our symptoms. Sometimes prayer alone makes us feel better in the same way that talking to our therapist makes us feel better.

man-praying-on-one-kneeBut it’s dangerous to tell a mentally ill person that prayer alone is the answer to depression. With the exception of fringe fundamentalists who believe all illness is the will of God and we should just suffer without treatment, most people would agree that it is neither wise nor reasonable to rely on prayer alone for other medical conditions; be it diabetes, heart disease or cancer. So why should depression or any other mental illness be any different?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am a spiritual person. My worst bout with major depression happened this summer—and that was the closest I have ever been to God. I was literally on my knees several times a day asking for strength to get through the day. And it helped. A little.

My wife, the most important person in my support group, even tapes scripture to my bathroom mirror to remind me that I am not alone when I suffer. She is a source of spiritual nourishment in the times I don’t feel like praying. She intervenes on my behalf. Faith for me doesn’t mean I won’t suffer, it just means I will never suffer alone.

One of the most troubling aspects of the stigma of mental illness is that some people don’t get that it really is all in our heads, only not in the way they mean. It’s in our brains. Depression is not a sign of weakness or spiritual shortcomings. It is a disease of the brain that often, or at least in my case, needs medical treatment.

There is no question that a healthy spiritual life can help in the battle against depression. It might even cure illnesses for some. I do not doubt that.

The rest of us should not feel ashamed if our prayers go unanswered, though.

Faith alone is not a good strategy for major depression.

You can also read Jack Smith's personal blog at

APA Reference
Smith, J. (2011, November 4). Depression is an Illness, Not a Sin, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Jack Smith

Marie Brymer
February, 12 2014 at 2:14 pm

I'm very concerned that some poor soul will read this article and go on, suffering, wading through, without help, because you are insinuating that to seek help is not right.Guiding someone down a wrong path is more sinful..I'm trusting the GOD I serve, to speak to that persons heart and change their opinion.Thank you...Marie Brymer (Nova Scotia,CANADA) P.S. I have NOT written here before!!!!!

Jon P
November, 8 2011 at 8:33 am

Thanks for much for writing this Jack! I can't tell you how damaging it has been over the years to hear that depression (bipolar) is caused by unconfessed sin or demonic oppression. It took years of therapy and moving to a healthy church to overcome those faulty beliefs. I'm learning now how to see God as good, in the midst of my suffering.

Patrice Garrick
November, 4 2011 at 6:15 pm

Well-written and much needed. The ignorance and stigma about mental illness is distressing to me. Thank you for educating people.

November, 4 2011 at 1:42 pm

Thank you so much for this article! I'm tempted to print it out and hand it out to people who tell me "pray harder." I was just told that last week. Like you said, you wouldn't tell someone with cancer or diabetes that they should be praying harder, so why do it with this?!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jack Smith
November, 4 2011 at 4:56 pm

I can relate. Thanks for your comment and for checking out the blog. Please come back!

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