Showing posts with label Real life testimonies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Real life testimonies. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

When Your Husband Struggles with Depression by Cheri Fuller

When Your Husband Struggles with Depression by Cheri Fuller

(Note: I am indebted to Cheri Fuller for giving me the permission to re-publish this encouraging testimony on this website (see Cheri’s email at the end of this article). It is my sincere prayers that this testimony of God’s mercies to Cheri Fuller and her husband will be a great encouragement to the readers and will give some hope and help to wives who are struggling to help their depressed husband. May they too know the comfort and help of God as Cheri Fuller and her husband has experienced. To God be the glory.)

Autobiography notes:
Cheri Fuller writes of her experiences and God’s mercies and help to her as she strives to help and support her husband, Holmes, who struggles with depression. Her original article is published on her website Cheri would like to tell our readers that her latest book is “Loving Your Spouse Through Prayer: How to Pray God’s Word Into Your Marriage”, which she thinks would be an encouragement, support and help to anyone who reads her article on their husbands and depression. It is possible to subscribe to her eNewsletter of hope, inspiration and prayer on

When Your Husband Struggles with Depression
Take heart—there’s hope for him and you.
by Cheri Fuller

Several years ago, my husband, Holmes, began skipping meals and losing weight, eventually 25 pounds within three months. His laid-back, somewhat pensive temperament turned irritable and moody. Although he typically was quiet about his feelings, Holmes became increasingly withdrawn and didn’t seem to enjoy things anymore.

I knew Holmes was encountering tough times as a homebuilder in a flagging economy and a tanking stock market. But I kept hoping he’d perk up if he got another construction job. In the meantime, being ever the encourager, I tried everything I could think of to cheer him up. I pointed out all the positive things he did, such as being a great dad or helping other people. I encouraged Holmes to look ahead to a family trip we’d planned, but that didn’t help, either. As the months rolled into years, neither my encouraging words nor my hard work to take up the slack in our income seemed to make a difference.

In 1995, roughly seven years after I first noticed my husband’s struggles, our pastor realized from a conversation with Holmes that he was suicidal. He immediately made Holmes an appointment with a doctor who diagnosed him as having clinical depression. The physician told us Holmes probably had been depressed for years. Situational depression caused by the crushing pressures of Holmes’ declining building business in the late 1980s, compounded by a genetic predisposition to clinical depression on both sides of his family, had pushed him to the edge. Perhaps if I’d known the clues, Holmes could have gotten help before his depression had become full-blown.

I’ve discovered I’m not the only woman who’s experienced life with a depressed husband. With an unstable economy and corporate meltdowns, depression in males is on the rise. That means countless wives face the challenge of trying to help a spouse who’s in emotional turmoil. But depression doesn’t have to bring down your entire family. There is help, there is hope, and there are ways you can support your spouse—and yourself.

Caring for Your Husband

If the dark cloud of depression overtakes your spouse, how can you help him?

Recognize the signs. It’s important to distinguish between situational depression triggered by something such as a job layoff or demotion, and clinical depression. Situational depression involves some of the same symptoms of clinical depression (see below), but they’re of shorter duration and lower intensity. For example, if your husband’s depression is caused by discouragement over a jobloss, within six months he should regroup, recover his enjoyment of life, and move on. However, according to Michael Navarro, a licensed psychotherapist, clinical depression’s symptoms are more pronounced and last far longer. The absence of pleasure in the activities your husband once enjoyed is greater; his malaise, anger, or weight loss more substantial.

If your husband experiences a majority of the symptoms of depression, he needs professional help. Your family physician can determine what’s biological and what’s psychological; he may make a diagnosis of clinical depression and refer your spouse to a psychologist or psychiatrist for therapy and medication. In Holmes’s case, counseling and an antidepressant were helpful short-term, but since we didn’t have the money to continue therapy, his recovery process took much longer. (I’ve since learned many good therapists provide a sliding fee scale depending on your financial condition.)

How would you know if your husband needs to be hospitalized? If he’s seeing a doctor, his physician would make that recommendation. But here are other clues that in-patient help is needed to stabilize your spouse: when he repeatedly cancels or doesn’t show up for his outpatient/counseling appointments or refuses help; when he digresses into a more nonfunctional state; or if he experiences severe weight loss or sudden gain. And—most important—if he makes statements such as, “I wish I wasn’t around,” or “I think it’s better if you collect my insurance. You and the kids would be better off without me,” which indicate suicidal thinking.

Accept and love your spouse. One of the most important things you can do for your struggling mate is to let him know you still love and accept him despite how he feels about himself. “I’m not saying accepting is easy,” says psychologist Archibald Hart, author of Dark Clouds, Silver Linings. “But you have to accept the reality of the problem. It’s there whether you like it or not, and your responsibility is to communicate love and acceptance in whatever way you possibly can.” This could include a loving touch or hug, or gentle encouragement through a card or meaningful gift.

During one of Holmes’s darkest days, he said, “We—and I—may never be happy again; you’d be better off leaving.” I went in the other room, wept, and prayed for strength and the right response. A short time later, I sat down by Holmes, held his hand, and said, “Even if we’re never happy again, it’s just not all about happiness; it’s about loving each other and being together. I’m committed to you for the rest of our lives. I’m not going anywhere.” Although we had huge hills yet to climb, that was a turning point for us. And in that particular response, Holmes felt unconditionally loved and accepted right where he was.

Encourage exercise. While physical exercise can be an extra challenge to those struggling with depression, the endorphins it provides create a natural mood-lifter. So gently encourage your husband to go for a walk with you after dinner as many nights as he’s willing, or to work out at a gym or do whatever activity he enjoys most when he feels up to it. When my husband and I took our evening walks, he sometimes would open up. One night as we walked, I asked Holmes to give me a word picture of how he felt.

“I feel like a vine’s wrapping itself around me; that it began at my feet and now is almost up to my neck, choking me,” he described. It was hard to hear how terrible he felt, but it helped me connect with him and understand a little of what he was going through.

Realize anger often accompanies depression. But don’t allow your husband to disrespect or abuse you or your children. Be available to listen, but avoid trying to be his therapist. “A mate’s role is primarily one of support. The main therapeutic work needs to be done by a professional,” says Hart.

Whether your husband’s anger is rooted in grief and loss issues, unresolved childhood issues, failure, or job loss, he needs someone with whom to talk. One counselor I know has her clients list ten things they’re angry about when they come in for therapy because she’s found that underneath most depression is anger over something.

Encourage fellowship with other men. When Carrie’s husband, Jeremy, went through a depressive period after a job loss, a small group of friends met with him weekly over coffee to be his sounding board for his job-hunting. They also kept him in their prayers during the difficult months. Their support was invaluable to his recovery and the new career direction he found.

Avoid using words that make him feel worse. A man in the doldrums of depression doesn’t need to hear, “How can you be depressed with all God has done in our lives?” (He’s probably already feeling as though no one understands, and this just confirms it.) Avoid preaching: “Just read your Bible more and get right with God, and your depression will go away.”

Refrain from belittling him or comparing him to others as in, “You know, Brian took St. John’s Wort and he bounced back from his depression in only three months.” Also avoid saying, “Look on the bright side. Count yourself lucky and cheer up,” which makes him feel guilty. One woman I know purposed to praise her husband for the baby steps he took in learning to trust God in the darkness, and didn’t blurt out, “I thought you already knew that!” when he shared insights with her.

Caring for Yourself

I became so emotionally and physically depleted during my husband’s depression that I began suffering from severe insomnia. While working overtime, I parented our teens and worried about our financial situation and my husband. Sometimes I felt abandoned by Holmes —emotionally, at least.

Eventually I realized I harbored some anger as well. Some sessions with a counselor and later a small support group helped me tremendously.

If you get support and deal with your issues, you’ll be healthier emotionally and thus better able to help your husband and children. Here are some ways:

Ask for help. When Brenda’s husband, Daryle, needed to be hospitalized for severe depression, she didn’t think to ask her brother or pastor to accompany her. She drove Daryle the three hours to the center by herself.

Mile after mile he protested, “I’m going home. I’m not going to the hospital. The bank will pull the loans if I’m gone. The company will go under. We’ll lose everything.” After Brenda got her husband in the hospital and almost collapsed from exhaustion, she realized she couldn’t do everything alone. She found a student teacher to live with her family temporarily to help with her children and take them to school. Brenda learned to ask others for help. In the same way, you may need help from a support group or prayer partners, and assistance with your children.

Consider counseling with your husband’s therapist, because frequently the wife feels responsible for her husband’s depression. Find one trusted friend with whom you can cry, be real, and pray. Flo Perkins, an elderly friend whose husband had suffered with chronic depression, was my lifesaver. Flo understood, listened, prayed for me, and encouraged me repeatedly. She passed on the comfort with which God had comforted her (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). From her I learned the invaluable truth that I could give the Lord all my troubles and entrust my husband to his care.

Don’t keep secrets. When Liz’s husband’s life crashed around him due to clinical depression, they went from being pillars in their rural community to being under the lowest rock. He lost his profession, his reputation, his earning power, and his hope as he lived for six long years in a state of depression. One of the best things they did was endeavor to keep open communication with each other and their kids. They held family councils and talked over what was happening in age-appropriate ways, praying together during crises and ongoing struggles.

A word of caution: It’s best to clear this kind of family meeting first with your husband, perhaps by saying, “You’ve always been such a loving dad. Could you help me talk to the kids about your depression to let them know it’s not their fault, and that we’re all going to be healing together?” Avoid saying, “Your depression’s hurting our children, messing their lives up, and making life hard,” which only will make him feel worse. If he prefers, you could sit down with your children alone and explain the nature of depression and that you’ll help them cope with their dad’s condition.

Your kids may need to talk to someone such as a youth pastor or counselor who can help them sort through their feelings. They also need to know they always can come to you to talk about the situation.

Remind yourself of God’s truth. When Brenda was beset by fears, time after time she told herself the truths that restored her stability: that God would never leave or forsake her (Hebrews 13:5); that he promised her his grace when she was weak (2 Corinthians 12:10); and that God somehow would weave everything—even this depression—into a pattern for good (Romans 8:28).

“So often we try to force our way out of a crisis,” Brenda says. “Instead, I began to embrace the situation and say, ‘Okay, God, what do you want me to learn in this? How do you want me to change? And what are you going to accomplish in my husband and family through this difficult time?’”

As she focused on God, Brenda saw him working through Daryle’s hospitalization, the friends who surrounded Daryle, and the spiritual growth they as a couple experienced. Before, Daryle had been Brenda’s rock; through this experience, Brenda learned to depend more on God. And as Daryle recovered, he developed an effective ministry with hurting people and a special sensitivity to those suffering from depression.

Take “mini-vacations.” During the six years her husband was depressed, Liz learned to create brief getaways from her family difficulties. Since they were financially challenged, Liz took long walks through the countryside, singing hymns and praise choruses, sometimes crying buckets of tears and other times stopping to journal her feelings. She lit scented candles at home and took bubble baths to relax. She planned fun activities for her children—picnics, outings to the state park, zoo, and movies, and occasional trips to the grandparents—and carried them out without her husband’s participation when he couldn’t even fake the energy to be involved. These short breaks refueled Liz for the challenges she faced.

Let prayer be your lifeline. “Praying for those we love who are depressed is our best hope,” says Gerry Mensch, who not only survived her own depression but her husband’s as well. “Antidepressants can help, but some in the grip of depression refuse to seek help. When God begins to work in their hearts, he’ll accomplish more than we or medication ever can.” If your husband won’t go for counseling, start praying he’ll wake up and ask for assistance, or that God will put a man in his life to steer him toward help.

Throughout Holmes’s depression, my lifeline was praying Scriptures for him such as Joel 2:25, which asks God to restore the wasted years; Colossians 1:9-12, to give my husband direction; Isaiah 61:1-3, to lift his heaviness of despair and replace it with praise and joy; and 1 Peter 4:8, to fill me with the love that covers a multitude of sins.

It took several years for Holmes to recover from depression, and as we prayed together, we experienced God’s grace for every situation we faced. Prayer strengthened our marriage when we were weak, and reminded us again and again of God’s love. While Holmes’s recovery wasn’t quick, God always was faithful. Although medication and counseling helped, God’s healing power and his Word kept us together.

Today, when I see Holmes smile as he holds one of our five grandchildren, sense his sheer enjoyment of an American history course he recently took at a local university, or experience the fun of strolling on the beach together, I’m grateful for where he is now. I’m thankful for the things we learned and the comfort we received from God and others. I’m also glad we have a chance to share what we learned with others going through depression.

Cheri Fuller, a TCW regular contributor, is a speaker and author whose latest book is Fearless: Building a Faith That Overcomes Your Fear (Revell). Check out her website at

Warning Signs
Your spouse may be depressed if he:

* Sleeps too much or too little; wakes frequently throughout the night.
* Is persistently sad or has a flat, empty mood.
* Experiences increased anxiety, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and/or decreased
* Exhibits physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or other chronic pain that doesn’t respond to treatment.
* Experiences appetite loss, weight loss, or sudden weight gain.
* Has suicidal thoughts.
* Feels hopeless, pessimistic, worthless, a failure.
* Is irrational in his thinking or has difficulty making decisions.

Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today’s Christian Woman magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Today’s Christian Woman.
September/October 2003, Vol. 25, No. 5, Page 68

From: Cheri Fuller []
Sent: Tuesday, April 17, 2007 11:06 PM
Subject: RE: Permission to put your article on my website

Dear Nancie,

Yes, you have my permission to carry my article described below on your website. But you will need to include my name at the top of the article, and also my website: and my latest book, Loving Your Spouse Through Prayer: How to Pray God’s Word Into Your Marriage, which I think would be an encouragement, support and help to anyone who reads my article on your husband and depression. You might also tell people in the Author Bio Box that they can subscribe to my eNewsletter of hope, inspiration and prayer on

I pray God will fill you with the life of Jesus, bring healing and wholeness to every area of your life, and guide you By His Spirit as you seek to help others through this website.

In Christ,
Cheri Fuller

Real Life Testimonies

1. Broken mind by Steve and Robyn Bloem

Shedding light on the darkness of depression by John H. Timmerman

When you husband struggles with depression by Cheri Fuller

Stress and burn out in the ministry by Rowland Croucher

Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder by Marja Bergen

Shedding Light on the Darkness of Depression by John H. Timmerman

Shedding Light on the Darkness of Depression by John H. Timmerman
(This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Religion Online.)

John H. Timmerman is professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He elaborates on his experiences with depression in his book A Season of Suffering (Multnomah, 1988). This article appeared in the Christian Century, March 2, 1988. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

At the most unexpected moments it slips people its dark poison. One scarcely notices the initial sting. Slowly, insidiously, the poison spreads until the victim finds herself cut off from life by a gray veil. The monster, what Winston Churchill, a longtime sufferer, called “the Black Dog.” is depression. Medical statistics indicate that in the adult U.S. population approximately 12 per cent of males and 18 per cent of females have had a major depressive episode at some time.

Call it what you will, the most agonizing fact of the illness is that pall of darkness laid upon the mind. Life and light seem beyond reach. Something intervenes: a gray mist of separation, the inability to feel loved and needed, a feeling of being locked away from everything and everyone — including God.

Perhaps this is one way to distinguish between the “blues,” which afflict nearly everyone at one time or another, and the blackness of clinical depression. Clinically depressed patients cry, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” — and sometimes add, “But I really can’t blame you for doing so.” Unworthiness. Forsakenness.

Clinical depression can generate a number of specific symptoms that are severe, persistent and disabling. Its causes may be internal (endogenous) or external (exogenous) But if it becomes severe, it is marked by a profound biological unsettling of the delicate interplay of chemicals in the brain. Into that imbalance enters the appalling cloud. It was this biological depression that sucked my wife — and my family — into its black maw. We became a vivid example of suffering in the Christian life.

Acknowledging that Christians can suffer from depression flies in the face of popular religious slogans that tell us about the power of positive thinking, that we should let go and let God, that all is well with the world when one is right with God.

Seven weeks following the birth of our fourth child, my wife, Pat, fell victim to postpartum depression. Though she entered the hospital diagnosed with severe, major biological depression, the admitting psychiatrist assured us that she could expect to leave within two to three weeks as antidepressant medications took effect. Her hospitalization lasted seven weeks, through a tormenting sequence of failed medication and terrifying mental affliction, culminating in a series of electro-convulsive treatments.

So many of us will worry over even a sore throat and seek condolences from others, but we are strangely reluctant to admit to mental affliction. It appears a sign of weakness or, in the perverted view of some, a sign of sin. However difficult it is to acknowledge depression, it is a fact that many Christians have experienced it. Just how many is difficult to say; statistics are often contradictory and unreliable. For many years depression, unless it required hospitalization, was something we hid in the closet (and even then we hid it if possible) As more people are recognizing the nature of the illness, more are seeking help. For all those on the continuum from “blues” to clinical depression, I want to affirm that the black dog can be tamed; depression can be healed.

But how can people recognize depression? What signs can they look for? The most recent psychiatric guidelines, given in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1981) , draw attention to persistence and severity, usually gauged as at least two weeks’ endurance (distinguishing depression from the common, passing blues) of four or more of the following symptoms: persistent feelings of guilt, sadness and hopelessness; thoughts of suicide; poor concentration; changes in appetite; alterations in sleep patterns; decreased interest in sex; and loss of interest in daily activities.

Clinical analysis generally divides depression’s signs and symptoms into four major areas. Affective signs include states of feelings, ranging from mild sadness to severe despair. The depressed person often feels some degree of anxiety, worry, anger or confusion.

Cognitive thought-process signs are the way in which the patient thinks about himself or herself, and about relationships with others or with situations. Typically, the depressed person has very low self-esteem, feels incapable of clear decisions, and seems to have little control over thought processes, into which thoughts of death or suicide intrude.

Both of the above may be observed in behavior signs. Because of their low self-esteem and confused thinking, depressed people may become terribly dependent and submissive, fearful of being left alone, and given to relentless crying and withdrawal. Agitation may give way to restless behavior such as pacing, trembling or handwringing. Their speech and action may become impeded. They may neglect routine activities, such as picking up the mail, reading the newspaper or making coffee. They no longer take pleasure in formerly enjoyable activities.

Depression inevitably takes its toll upon the patient’s physical functions. Initially, depressed people seem to lack energy, which may spiral rapidly into acute fatigue as sleep habits are disturbed. They may suffer physical symptoms such as constipation or diarrhea, indigestion, nausea and headaches. Despite the longing for physical contact, sexual patterns may be disturbed. Posture is often affected; the patient might slouch, bending shoulders forward as if a weight were pressing upon them. The eyes might appear dull and listless, seeming to turn inward with a kind of glazed look. Few illnesses reveal as clearly the relation between body and mind.

Having examined some of the indicators of depression, the word why inevitably arises. Here is the great perplexity of depression: Why does this happen to me? As a rule, depressed persons, because of the acute sense of unworthiness which typifies the illness, generally believe they are depressed because of something they have or have not done. They believe themselves to be responsible, even if they can find no direct cause-and-effect relationship in their lives. Since so many factors come to bear upon the illness, it is understandable that people are prone to inventing causes; they want to name, identify, pinpoint and blame someone or something specific.

Psychiatry has postulated causes that are more probable than one’s own actions. For example, genetic factors may to a certain extent make one more susceptible to depression. Those with a family background of mental disorders are at greater risk. Second, stress can provoke emotional mood shifts. A third area, the chemical functions of the brain, has become a primary focus of medical research into biological depression. Current science provides convincing evidence that disruption in hormonal patterns and the neural synapses in the brain are involved in clinical depression. Because of this chemical imbalance, the use of certain drugs has become critically important to the treatment of depression.

Psychiatry generally distinguishes between two major kinds of depression: bipolar and unipolar. Bipolar, or manic, depression is characterized by recurring mood shifts which the patient cannot control. Unipolar depression is a single, progressive state, without the mood swings. One theory speculates that too little of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine causes unipolar depression; too much of it causes manic depression. More recent theories hold that several transmitters are involved — serotonin and dopamine, for example. Treatment for both types of depression may involve pharmaceutical control, depending on the diagnosis of probable causes and background for the individual’s condition.

The use of medications in the treatment of depression, often prescribed over an extensive period of time, provokes considerable dismay in many people. They fear the possibility of physiological and psychological dependency upon the drug.

Having considered signs and symptoms of depression, the major kinds of depression and drug therapy for them, one has still skirted the medical fringes of a catastrophic human experience. Left begging is the key question: What is depression like? No single item emerges more clearly from studies of the experience of depression than the fact that it attacks the very individuality of the sufferer and is therefore unique to each person’s experience of it. It afflicts parts of us that make us individuals — our minds, emotions and personalities.

Some indication of what the illness is like may be gleaned from a journal my wife kept during her seven-week hospitalization. As she began to respond to medication her moods bounced up and down. It seemed that depression was a dark beast, always lurking behind some huge door in her mind, ready to spring out at unexpected moments. It was always there, and its attack could not be predicted. Fear of the beast was as terrible as the attack itself.

June 23 (after one week) :
When I awaken, I have a sick feeling as I remember that I am here. Sometimes it still seems like a bad dream. I attended chapel but found it very hard to concentrate. The message seemed meaningless.

June 28 (after two weeks) :
Last night was a frightening night. The overwhelming feeling of depression hit me during the night. I felt nauseated, like my nerves were in knots, and had diarrhea.

. . .Tears have flowed like rivers today. I really feel I need strength from the Lord to help me get through this hospitalization. Sometimes I feel so alone and worried about a recurrence when I get home.

July 7 (after 3 weeks) :
I feel so guilty that I can’t seem to get well. I feel like a stranger to myself. . . . I can’t read my Bible or pray. I know God knows my needs and the needs of my family, and I trust He will take care of us all. I’ve reread my favorite Bible promises. But I can’t feel them right now.

July 12:
I awakened about 3:30 A.M. I feel very nauseated and very thirsty. At 5 A.M. I got up for some ginger ale and a cracker. I still feel nauseated and my head is spinning. I am very discouraged. I still am thirsty. . . “I’m trying so hard to believe all of God’s promises. I know that they are true and I thank him that they aren’t dependent upon my feeling them. I feel totally helpless today. I feel that with every depressing day a little more of me dies.”

During this time Pat’s medication was not being effectively metabolized. Since switching her to a different medicine would have taken several weeks, and she had already been separated from her family for nearly six weeks, her doctors decided, with our approval, to use electro-convulsant therapy

The use of ECT has always been extremely controversial in psychiatry, and its mere mention strikes fear into the heart of the patient. The modern use of ECT, however, is far more carefully regulated and benign than the old-fashioned “shock treatments” of the 1960s. The careful administration of
muscle-relaxants and tranquilizers reduces the “shock” to the body. The small surge of electricity penetrates the disrupted activity of the brain, jarring the neurotransmitters into normal action. The most common side-effects are short-term memory loss and headache, the latter usually relieved within 24 hours. While seldom a first course of treatment for depression, ECT has resulted in considerable relief for biological depression. While the normal course of treatments runs a course of 6-12 administrations, ECT proved so successful for Pat that she was given only four. A week later she was discharged.

Discharge from a hospital, however, is only a beginning on the road back to health. A major depressive episode such as Pat’s may last as long as 18 months. In fact, it was almost two years before she was able to go completely off antidepressant medication. For some people, the battle with depression and the necessity for medication or therapy may endure for years. However long the ordeal, however, the experience will forever be a part of the person. The fear of recurrence is always there; the memory of the anguish never fully disappears.

Second. we learned how much the body of Christ must support members in need. We experienced this help in bountiful and unexpected ways, reminding us with a tremendous urgency of our corporate need and responsibility. Church members regularly lifted our need before God in intercessory prayer. Pastors and friends delivered meals to us, cared for the children and comforted us. We experienced the New Testament ideal of being one body in Jesus, and the care that each member shares.

We learned that others also suffer enormous hurt on their pilgrimage through this fallen world. It is not, however, a vale of tears with no light finally to show the way. The many helping hands that attended us testified to the opposite. But sometimes it takes the jarring impact of personal pain to remind us of the wounded spirits to whom we can minister. This need is particularly great, we found, among those who suffer psychological pain. For so many it is a private grief, borne upon lonely shoulders, hidden from the world.

Depression should no longer carry a stigma; we must recognize it as an illness entailing specific spiritual and psychological needs, and requiring specific treatments. Depressed people need recognition and urgent caring. One great need is for human contact, whether through greeting cards or visits. To the depressed person, the well of human kindness seems to have hit dry rocks; there never seems to be enough love available.

Our experience tutored us, painfully, in the reality of suffering among faithful Christians. We have no easy answers. But we felt the pulse of pain and, by looking to the cross, gained some understanding.

Jesus, the true light himself, the very son of God, stands in the form of humanity — the very same who marred God~s perfection and cast darkness over that light. To restore that light, Jesus, the perfect light, underwent the full anguish of complete darkness. He knew separation from God thoroughly; he plumbed the deepest sea of terrifying darkness in order to build a bridge out of it for us. There he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He felt cut off from God, forsaken. Still caught between the perfect light and the dark imperfection, we cry out the same plea. Though he was plunged into the sea of human despair, the devil could not hold Jesus. A shattered grave, blasted apart by the light of all ages, is the testimony. In the gutted wreck of that grave lies the foot of the bridge out of all darkness.

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Copyright 2007 CHRISTIAN CENTURY. Reproduced by permission from the March 2, 1988 issue of the CHRISTIAN CENTURY. Subscriptions: $49/year from P.O. Box 378, Mt. Morris, IL 61054. 1-800-208-4097


I emailed Religion Online to seek permission to reproduce the above article. Mr William F. Fore replied very kindly:

From: William F. Fore
Date: Jan 22, 2008 11:42 PM
Subject: Re: Permission to put an article on my blog
To: Nancie

Dear Nancie,

Actually you don’t need my permission to place something from Religion nline on your blog, so long as you don’t charge anybody to use it.

William F. Fore
Religion Online


Real Life Testimonies

1. Broken mind by Steve and Robyn Bloem

Shedding light on the darkness of depression by John H. Timmerman

When you husband struggles with depression by Cheri Fuller

Stress and burn out in the ministry by Rowland Croucher

Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder by Marja Bergen

Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder by Marja Bergen

Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder
by Marja Bergen

Mental illness is not all bad. I have lived with bipolar disorder for over forty years and have found it has many benefits. I couldn’t imagine living without it and am not at all unhappy with my life. In many ways, I value what this illness has made possible for me.

With effective medication to keep symptoms under control, people with bipolar disorder can live a close-to-normal life. Yes, moods will fluctuate and cause occasional problems, and treatment will need adjustment. Suffering will always be part of my life. But I accept the way God, the Great Potter, made me. I am rich on many levels.

Like many people with this disorder, I am very creative. I receive a lot of pleasure from photography and using my imagination. The deep emotions I experience, although painful, are a source of richness; I feel completely human. My frequent hard times have helped me appreciate the good times and I make the most of them. Spiritually, I’m stronger for having had to deal with great trials. The fires I’ve passed through have refined me.

Most of all, I appreciate the compassion I am able to have for others who suffer from depression and other mental health issues. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1: 4 hold true for me. I praise God “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.” God has shown me his love, and I want to pass that love on to others.

Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to be part of a church community that has supported me and helped me grow spiritually. With the Christ-like love they have shown me, I have come to understand how great God’s love is. In turn, I now help others through a support group and one-on-one, in person and through my blog. I feel fulfilled. The language of suffering I’ve learned helps me connect with people in trouble. I am able to understand them in a way many others could not.

I feel a bit like Patch Adams in the Robyn Williams film. While Patch is a patient in a psychiatric hospital, he discovers his ability to connect with people. He learns to understand his severely disturbed roommate to see the person behind the illness and helps him through his problems. Not only does this delight Patch, it makes him a well man.

Patch eagerly tells his doctor he is well and needs to leave the hospital. I connected to another human being, he said. I want to do more of that. I want to learn about people. I want to help them with their troubles. I want to really listen to people. Connecting with other people gave Patch joy. It gives me joy, too. When God places you in this role a role he made for you joy happens. Walking with people through some of their toughest times is rewarding and a privilege.

Bipolar disorder will always be with me, and I suffer many high and low moods. But, I don’t feel I’m a victim of the disease. God has helped me find a way to make my illness work for me instead of against me.

‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11) God has a plan for each of us. Though we might have a severe illness such as bipolar disorder, God has work for us to do. Eventually, we can use what God has given us even the bad and turn it into something good.

Marja Bergen is the author of Riding the Roller Coaster: Living with Mood Disorders (Northstone, 1999) and a new book for Christians about living successfully with bipolar disorder (to appear). She is the founder of Living Room, a faith-based Mood Disorders Association of BC support group. Her blog,, deals with mental health and faith issues. She can be reached at

This article is published on the website of

This article is reproduced here with the permission of Marja when I wrote to her. Thank God for her kindness:

Hi Nancie and Sandy. Thank you both for your good wishes.

And welcome to my site, Nancie. It’s good to meet you. I had a look at your blog and can see you are a kindred spirit. I’d be happy for you to post my articles from Canadian Christianity on your blog. There are several there, and you’re welcome to use any of them.


Marja’s blog:
Roller Coaster

This blog is about Marja’s living with bipolar disorder and about how her Christian faith has helped her cope and develop a life that is full and satisfying. It deals with some of the frustrations and anger she feels about the injustice and damaging effect of stigma.

Real Life Testimonies

1. Broken mind by Steve and Robyn Bloem

2. Shedding light on the darkness of depression by John H. Timmerman

3. When you husband struggles with depression by Cheri Fuller

4. Stress and burn out in the ministry by Rowland Croucher

5. Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder by Marja Bergen

Stress and burnout in the ministry by Rowland Croucher


It was a grey Canadian morning in April 1982. The children had gone to school, my wife to work, and I did something I’d never done before. I turned the phone down, put a note on the front door, and went back to bed. I was burned out - and within two months resigned my ministry there.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, four books about ministry had come off the presses. Note the titles: The Plight of the Australian Clergy, High Calling High Stress, Battle Guide for Christian Leaders - an Endangered Species, and Conflict and Decline.


(1) ‘Stress now contributes to 90% of all diseases. Half of all visits to doctors are stress-related’. ‘Anxiety reduction’ may now be the largest single business in the Western world.

(2) ‘Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.’

(3) ‘Research 25 years ago showed clergy dealing with stress better than most professionals. Since 1980, studies in the U.S. describe an alarming spread of burnout in the profession. For example, Jerdon found three out of four parish ministers (sample: 11,500) reported severe stress causing ‘anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation’.

Why is pastoral ministry so stressful? The reasons may be as numerous and unique as there are pastors. However, recent research is unanimous in citing the following problem areas: the disparity between (somewhat idealistic) expectations and hard reality; lack of clearly defined boundaries - tasks are never done; workaholism (’bed-at-the-church’ syndrome); the Peter Principle - feeling of incompetence in leading an army of volunteers; conflict in being a leader and servant at the same time (’line-support contamination’); intangibility - how do I know I’m getting somewhere?; confusion of role identity with self image - pastors derive too much self-esteem from what they do; time management problems (yet pastors have more ‘discretionary time’ than any other professional group); paucity of ‘perks’; multiplicity of roles; inability to produce ‘win-win’ conflict resolutions; difficulty in managing interruptions; the ‘little adult’ syndrome (Dittes) - clergy are too serious, they have difficulty being spontaneous; preoccupation with ‘playing it safe’ to avoid enraging powerful parishioners; ‘administration overload’ - too much energy expended in areas of low reward; loneliness - the pastor is less likely to have a close friend than any other person in the community.

Stress and burnout are not the same (see box). Hans Selye defines stress in terms of the response your body makes to any demand on it. There is ‘good stress’ (eustress) - associated with feelings of joy, fulfilment, achievement - and ‘bad stress’ (distress), which is prolonged or too-frequent stress.

It is not possible (without a frontal lobotomy) to live without stress. Originally the term came from physics: the application of sufficient force to an object to distort it. So stress comes from ‘outside’ the organism, causing your body to respond in either ‘fight’ (when angry) or ‘flight’ (fear). Actually, stress is the transaction that takes place between you and your environment. The outside event impinges on your belief system, your brain interprets what’s happening, and tells your body how to respond. Adrenalin is pumped into your bloodstream; blood is diverted from various organs to brain and muscles; pupils dilate (making vision more acute); hands and feet perspire; breathing and heart-rate increase, etc. The body is on ‘red alert’, the alarm response.

Most of us are not subject to physical danger very often, but whenever you are ‘driven’ by a very tight program, or threatened by a demand or expectation you don’t think you can meet, your body reacts in the same way. In fact, medical experts are now saying that ‘Type A’ people in particular may be suffering a kind of ‘adrenalin addiction’. Dr. David McClelland, professor of psychology at Harvard, says stress addiction is similar to the state of physiological arousal some people derive from a dependency on alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. A recent book Management and the Brain (Soujanen and Bessinger) suggests that some professionals are actually ‘hooked’ on stress. They get a ‘high’ out of controlling people and making complex decisions. Dr. Paul Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress, says the Type A male (50% of all pastors are Type A, according to Dr. Arch Hart) who is ‘living in the fast lane… has become addicted to his own adrenalin and unconsciously seeks ways to get those little surges’. These days more of us will die from a stress-related illness than from infection or old age. The only advantage of living stressfully : you’ll get to meet your Lord earlier!

Your body is designed to give warning signals of stress overload, which may include insomnia or disturbed sleep, digestive problems, headaches, low energy, chronic tiredness, psychosomatic illnesses, muscle tension, teeth grinding, high blood pressure, etc. Arch Hart again: ‘Stress is ‘hurry sickness’.

The symptoms are often seen by the victim as obstacles to performance and success that he or she merely wants to get rid of. Seldom does the disease of over-stress slow the victim down - not until the final blow is struck and the ulcer, stroke or heart attack occurs.’

Stressors come to Christian leaders in four categories.

(1) Bio-ecological factors related to poor diet (too much caffeine, refined white sugar, processed flour, salt etc.) and poor exercise habits. They also include noise and air pollution.

(2) Vocational factors include career uncertainty; role ambiguity (a lack of clearly defined and mutually-agreed ministry functions); role conflict (between church expectations and personal or family needs); role overload (too many real or imagined expectations); lack of opportunities to ‘derole’ and be yourself, for a change; loneliness (95% of Australian pastors do not have a spiritual director); time management frustrations - and many more.

(3) Psychological factors relate principally to the great life-change stressors - from the most stressful (such as the loss of a spouse), through divorce, death of a close family member, personal injury or illness, all the way to getting ready for Christmas or being handed a speeding fine!

(4) Spiritual causes of stress may include temptations of all kinds (sexual, despair if your church isn’t growing, jealousy of the success of others, anxiety over financial problems, anger - ‘close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry’ says Henri Nouwen - and any other way the devil can get at us). Even prayer can be stressful according to one study!

Burnout is emotional exhaustion, ‘compassion fatigue’ (Hart). So even less-competitive Type B Christians can suffer burnout. And the most conscientious people-helpers are most vulnerable.

Researchers like Maslach, Freudenberger and others from 1977 onwards gave the name ‘burn-out’ to
the special stressors associated with social and interpersonal pressures.

Dr. Arch Hart says burnout symptoms may include demoralization (belief you are not longer effective as a pastor); depersonalization (treating yourself and others in an impersonal way); detachment (withdrawing from responsibilities); distancing (avoidance of social and interpersonal contacts); and defeatism (a feeling of being ‘beaten’).

Christina Maslach, who described burnout as ‘a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion marked by physical depletion and chronic fatigue, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and by development of a negative self-concept and negative attitudes towards work, life and other people’, offers the following signs:

(1) Decreased energy -’keeping up the speed’ becomes increasingly difficult;

(2) feeling of failure in vocation;

(3) reduced sense of reward in return for pouring so much of self into the job or project;

(4) a sense of helplessness and inability to see a way out of problems; and

(5) cynicism and negativism about self, others, work and the world generally.

Personality and attitudinal factors may increase the propensity to burnout eg.: the pressure to succeed; an authoritarian personality which may come across insensitively (or a too-sensitive person who can feel with others’ hurts but who is vulnerable to criticism); inner-directed rage; underassertiveness - feeling victimized; carrying too much guilt about our humanness (an occupational hazard for clergy, so we develop facades for various occasions); inflexibility; and many more.

The essence of the problem, however, is the clash between expectations and reality. Clergy are often put on a pedestal - by others, and by themselves. Many of these expectations just can’t be met. We try to please, but may either become too goal-oriented for our people, or else too accommodating to their spiritual ’slackness’. ‘Strongly goal-oriented ministers will almost inevitably experience more frustration than process-oriented ones’ (Hart). We are working with volunteers, many of whom aren’t there when the work is unrewarding. And we’re stuck with each other - pastors have not hired most of the lay people they work with.

And so if we’re not careful, depending on our personality-type, we may become perfectionistic, over-conscientious, develop one side of our ministry disproportionately, or maybe identify so closely with our calling that if it falls apart, we do too.

People-helpers have another hazard: in our counselling we’re exposed almost exclusively to the negative sides of people’s lives. So the pastoral leader ought to spend as much time with the strong as with the weak - for his own sake (they give him strength and support), for the leaders’ sakes (they can be trained for ministry), and for the spiritual and emotional health of the whole church (there are more ministering persons available to help). Wasn’t it A.B. Bruce who suggested Jesus spent more time with the disciples than with the crowds?

Again, the people studying this phenomenon are becoming unanimous in their suggestions to Christian people-helpers:

1. Find fresh spiritual disciplines. A conference in California has the theme ‘One Hundred Ways to Pray’. Well, find about three or four, and ’shut the door’ as Jesus said (i.e. put in a telephone answering-machine), and learn the art of relaxing, contemplative prayer.Then, as the New Testament suggests, don’t be surprised when trials come your way. Jesus promised us trouble! So, as psychotherapist M. Scott Peck points out in his brilliant book The Road Less Traveled, when you expect life to be difficult, it is much less difficult.

2. Take regular time off. You aren’t called to work harder than your Creator. Develop a way of being ‘through for the day’ (at least most days). Take your full four weeks’ annual leave in one stretch (and make alternative arrangements for weddings, etc.). Encourage your denomination to include two weeks’ extra, all-expenses-paid study leave each year. On your day/s off, do something very different from what you do the other days. (Wednesday or Thursday is best for preachers - away from the adrenalin-arousing Sundays). Listen to Spurgeon: ‘Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body… If we do not rest, we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we’. Jesus said, ‘Come apart and rest awhile’. (If you don’t rest awhile, you’ll soon come apart!).

3. Get proper exercise and sleep. Exercise fairly vigorously 3-4 times a week. Walk, swim, play tennis; perspire and regularly breathe deeply. Allow adequate time for sleep. Dr. Hart again: ‘Adrenal arousal reduces our need for sleep - but this is a trap; we ultimately pay the penalty. Most adults probably need 8-9 hours’ a night!’

4. Relax. The relaxation response is the opposite of the fight/flight response. Just 20 minutes a day when we’re free from the tyranny of ‘things present’ is enough to counteract the harmful effects of stress. Two ways to relax: tighten each set of muscles from your feet to your face, counting to five before relaxing them; or begin meditation by repeating a one-word or one-phrase prayer (’Maranatha’, ‘Lord have mercy’), repeat it slowly over and over and enjoy the ‘other side of silence’.

5. Join a small support/prayer group. Ministry peers will better understand your needs; a cross-denominational group will enhance trust and provide other spiritualities. Then there’s the classical discipline of ’spiritual direction’ (or spiritual friendships). Who is Paul to your Timothy? Who teaches you to pray aright, as John the Baptist and Jesus taught their disciples? To whom do you confess your sins (James 5:16)? Luther said every priest ought to have such a ‘father in God’.

Congregations can help their pastor by praying more than they criticize him or her; having open communications re goals and expectations; recognizing that the pastor is human and will make mistakes like all of us; being as generous as possible financially (e.g. encouraging study leave); and protecting the privacy of the pastor’s family life.

6. Cognitive restructuring (i.e. changing one’s thinking). Take a personal audit. Reassess your goals; like your clothes, change them sometimes. Improve your self-attitudes. Learn a healthy assertiveness (e.g. by using the middle two letters of the alphabet - NO - sometimes, without apology). Know your gifts, and your limits. Face your fears; don’t avoid them by pretence, or bury them in an addiction.

Above all, avoid states of helplessness: take time to develop coping strategies for difficult situations. Learn not to make catastrophes out of ordinary events (increasing paranoia - ‘they’re out to get me’ - is a sign of burnout). Be a growing person: if God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word, what new understandings have you experienced recently? Freudenberger suggests: ‘Discard outmoded notions. Don’t wear points of view just because you used to! Like old-fashioned clothes, they may become ill-fitting and ridiculous as time goes on’.

7. Have fun! To belong to the kingdom you have to be like little children. They aren’t bothered about piles of correspondence or running the world. They get absorbed in things, even forgetting to run their own lives! So develop a few ‘interesting interests’: buy a bird-book and identify 100 native birds; collect stamps; play indoor cricket; take your spouse to an ethnic restaurant; give each of your kids an hour a week, where you do together what they suggest; build something ; audit a course. But do something! And laugh sometimes! Did you know your body will not let you laugh and develop an ulcer at the same time? Remember, with humourist Kin Hubbard: ‘Do not take life too seriously; you will never get out of it alive!’

1. Dr. Kenneth Greenspan, director of the Centre of Stress Related Disorders at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital.
2. From the Report of Adult Dependence Treatment Unit, St. Mary’s Hospital, Minneapolis, 1980.
3. Quoted in S. Daniel and M. Rogers’ ‘Burn-out and the Pastorate…’, Journal of Psychology and Theology, Fall 1981, 9 (3) 232-249.

Some Helpful Books
Ross Kingham & Robin Pryor, Out of Darkness - Out of Fire: A Work-book for Christian Leaders under Pressure (JBCE 1988);
Ed. Bratcher, The Walk-on-Water Syndrome: Dealing with Professional Hazards in the Ministry (Word, 1984);
Kent and Barbara Hughes, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome (Tyndale, 1988),
Robin Pryor, High Calling High Stress, & At Cross Purposes: Stress and Support in the ministry of the wounded healer (Uniting Church, Victoria, 1982, 1986);
John Sanford, Ministry Burnout (Paulist, 1982);
Archibald Hart, Coping with Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions (Word, 1984),
and The Success Factor (Revell, 1984);
David Augsburger and John Faul, Beyond Assertiveness (Word, 1980);
Brooks R. Faulkner, Burnout in Ministry (Broadman);
Keith W. Sehnert, Stress/Unstress (Augsburg);
Charles Rassieur, Stress Management for Ministers (Westminster, 1982);
Leadership (Christianity Today, Summer 1984. Theme: Roles and Expectations);
Robert Banks, The Tyranny of Time (Lancer, 1983)

Herbert Freudenberger, Burnout: How to Beat the High Cost of Success (Bantam, 1980);
Christina Maslach, Burnout - The Cost of Caring (Prentice-Hall, 1982);
Robert Alberti and Michael Emmons, Your Perfect Right (Impact, Calif., 1978);
Karl Albrecht and Hans Selye, Stress and the Manager (Prentice-Hall, 1979).

On contemplative prayer:
Anthony de Mello, Sadhana (St. Louis, 1978);
Mark Link, You, and Breakaway (Argus);
Morton Kelsey, The Other Side of Silence - A Guide to Christian Meditation (Paulist, 1976);
Simon Tugwell, Prayer (Vols 1 & 2) (Veritas, Dublin, 1984).

Dr. Arch Hart
* Burnout is a defense characterized by disengagement.
* Stress is characterized by overengagement.
* In Burnout the emotions become blunted.
* In Stress the emotions become over-reactive.
* In Burnout the emotional damage is primary.
* In Stress the physical damage is primary.
* The exhaustion of Burnout affects motivation and drive.
* The exhaustion of Stress affects physical energy.
* Burnout produces demoralization.
* Stress produces disintegration.
* Burnout can best be understood as a loss of ideals and hope.
* Stress can best be understood as a loss of fuel and energy.
* The depression of Burnout is caused by the grief engendered by the loss of ideals and hope.
* The depression of Stress is produced by the body’s need to protect itself and conserve energy.
* Burnout produces a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.
* Stress produces a sense of urgency and hyperactivity.
* Burnout produces paranoia, depersonalization and detachment.
* Stress produces panic, phobic, and anxiety-type disorders.
* Burnout may never kill you but your long life may not seem worth living.
* Stress may kill you prematurely, and you won’t have enough time to finish what you started.
================================================================= ==
Director, JOHN MARK MINISTRIES — resources for pastors/leaders & spouses
Home Page:
Copyright: Postings may be re-sent ONLY with all copyright notification intact.


Real Life Testimonies

1. Broken mind by Steve and Robyn Bloem

2. Shedding light on the darkness of depression by John H. Timmerman

3. When you husband struggles with depression by Cheri Fuller

4. Stress and burn out in the ministry by Rowland Croucher

5. Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder by Marja Bergen

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Broken Mind by Steve and Robyn Bloem

I found 2 useful reviews/comments on this book:

David Gregson reflects on a recent book by Steve and Robyn Bloem

2) Dr David P Murray's comments on "Broken Mind" in his Lecture 2 "The Complexity" in series of 6 lectures on "Depression and the Christian".


David Gregson reflects on a recent book by Steve and Robyn Bloem

In 1985, American Steve Bloem was about to make a final visit ‘with a view’ to what seemed a very suitable and attractive church in Florida. He had a wife and a young family and had successfullypassed through Bible seminary.

Up until then, Steve had been blessed with a joyful, stable personality and had coped well with the pressures of life. In 1985, however, he entered the dark tunnel of severe clinical depression — whichtook him and his wife Robyn by complete surprise.

Since then, Steve has endured further episodes of mental illness. He confesses readily that he is now a man of God ‘on pills’ and will be for the rest of his life.

Sadly, Steve and Robyn have had to contend with the tragic misconceptions about mental illness that are prevalent in evangelical circles, both in the USA and UK. That is why Steve and Robyn Bloem have jointly written a new book entitled "Broken Minds" to try to dispel the myths that seriously hinder Christians who suffer from depression.

Can Christians get depressed?

The symptoms of Steve’s illness were gloomy mornings, endless walks around the neighbourhood, poor concentration, disordered sleep patterns, loss of appetite, stomach complaints, feelings of worthlessness, intense sadness and even suicidal thoughts.

When eventually Steve suspected that he might be suffering from depression, he fought against the very idea. He writes, ‘As a born-again believer and a trained theologian, I did not want to entrust myself to a system where I would be vulnerable to mistreatment or psychological brainwashing. A deeper reason was that I had been taught that depression was for wimps. Surely if Christians walked with God, they would not get depressed’.

Steve was further bemused when well-meaning people said that his condition was due to his inability to handle stress or the consequence of anger turned inwards. Even Robyn at first thought that her husband was showing uncharacteristic signs of weakness and self-centredness. She, however, came to
see that she too had been the victim of evangelical ignorance and misunderstanding regarding mental illness.

After years of witnessing Steve’s struggles and supporting him through all his pain, she was able to write, ‘Diseases from the neck downward are acceptable, but start talking about the mind and the defences go up’. She realised that among Christians there was a real misunderstanding of depression
and that a dreadful stigma had grown up around it. She had become convinced of the reality of mental illness, not so much by scientific studies as by her husband’s suffering.

Chemical imbalance

It is generally accepted in the medical field that clinical depression is due to an imbalance in the chemistry of the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that carry electrical impulses from one nerve cell to another within the brain.

They are released from one cell (the sender) and travel to the next cell (the receiver), where it is either absorbed or returned to the sender. The best understanding of clinical depression is that there are not enough neurotransmitters to ferry these messages across all the gaps.

This deficiency leads to a change in the person’s mood, thinking and behaviour. Serotonin and noradrenaline are two neurotransmitters that increase brain activity and improve mood. Antidepressant drugs help the brain to retain more of these substances and so stabilise the mental condition.

At the present time, an estimated 121 million people suffer from serious depression throughout the world. It is one of the leading causes of disability and we should not be surprised to find Christians among the sufferers.

Spurgeon’s afflictions

One noteworthy example was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. It is well known that he had gout but the authors of Broken Minds suggest that he might also have been a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder (after a stampede in one of his services led to seven deaths) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD, due to a deficiency of light during the winter months).

He said in one of his sermons, ‘When the great wind blew at the time of the fall, a slate blew off everybody’s house; and some are more affected than others, so that they take the black view of all things’.

On another occasion he said, ‘The worst cloud of all, I think, is depression of spirit that is accompanied with the loss of the light of God’s countenance. Sickness, poverty, slander — none of these is comparable to depression’. He then quoted Proverbs 18:14: ‘The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness but who can bear a broken spirit?’

Competent to counsel?

One extremely helpful chapter in Broken Minds is entitled ‘Christian counselling, a treatment smorgasbord’, where Steve Bloem reviews the differing definitions of mental illness and treatment approaches advocated by various evangelical ‘camps’.

One of these is the ‘nouthetic’ counselling movement whose foundations were first laid in the writings of Jay Adams, in particular in Competent to counsel! Dr Adams based many of his conclusions on the experience he had acquired in two psychiatric institutions in America.

This led him to deny that mental illness even exists. He writes, ‘Apart from those who had organic problems like brain damage, the people I met in the two institutions in Illinois were there because of their own failure to meet life’s problems’.

Tragically, nouthetic counselling refuses to accept biological causes for clinical depression. One member of the National Association of Nouthetic Counsellors compares the idea that mental illness has an organic basis to belief in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Depression is therefore a sinful condition which (say the nouthetics) calls for biblical confrontation and ­repentance.

Although I do not doubt the sincerity and integrity of Bible-believing Christians involved in the nouthetic counselling movement, I have to say that their principles have led to much misunderstanding and unnecessary pain. Steve Bloem concludes: ‘In the midst of my own depression, I found nouthetic counsellors degrading. I felt despicable — morally responsible for every problem in my life’.

By way of contrast, Steve also includes a chapter entitled ‘Reclaiming the Puritan care of souls’. Here he points out that the Puritans refused to see individual sin as the cause of every problem people face. They taught that God sometimes sends ‘dark providences’ to Christians.

The English and American Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were skilled at distinguishing between physical, psychological and spiritual problems. In fact, they were much more competent in this area than many of today’s spiritual guides.

They truly were physicians of the soul, as was Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones more recently. Evangelicals today need to develop greater skills and awareness in this area of pastoral theology and practice.

Pastor on pills

I have a personal interest in Steve and Robyn Bloem’s book because I too am a pastor ‘on pills’. My depression remained undiagnosed from the age of twenty until the age of fifty. That was largely because I put my cyclic low periods down to fatigue and refused to seek medical help.

I was greatly helped, however, by the elders and members of Little Hill Church near Leicester, where I was pastor for 15 years. They had the right ideas about clinical depression being organic in origin and eventually prevailed on me to seek appropriate help.

This was provided by my own GP, a consultant psychiatrist and also in particular two Christian GPs who are personal friends. As far as I know, the latter have never experienced depression themselves but have seen its ravages in many of their patients. I found in them a compassion and understanding for which I will always owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

My depression is now controlled by appropriate medication. I sometimes sink a little for a short period but that is nothing like the deep troughs I used to experience for three months at a time.


These spells I now recognise as being good for me, ‘thorns in the flesh’ keeping me from being over-elated or arrogant (2 Corinthians 12:7). I also find that my personal experience of clinical depression has brought me two other benefits as a pastor — it has taught me to rely more on the God who is able to raise the dead and has given me a great sympathy for, and understanding of, those who suffer from depression (2 Corinthians 1:3-11).

Broken Minds by Steve and Robyn Bloem includes many autobiographical elements and it also contains insights and knowledge that both authors have acquired through their close contact with major depression.

There is much practical information in the book concerning treatment options and related topics like SAD, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder etc. and it has a biblical framework throughout. Broken Minds is now the Christian book I would most readily offer to victims of depression and those who feel that they are ‘losing it’.


2) Dr David P Murray's comments on "Broken Mind" in his Lecture 2 "The Complexity" in series of 6 lectures on "Depression and the Christian":

Obviously, the “drug-treatment model” or the “all-physical model” for depression is supported by those who wish to deny the existence of a non-physical, or spiritual element to human beings. However, there are Christians who also take the “drug-treatment model” approach. An example of this is found in the book Broken Minds by Steve and Robyn Bloem. Steve is a Christian pastor who has struggled with serious depression throughout his ministry. His book, co-written with his wife, gives a deeply moving account of his lifethreatening battle with mental illness. There is no book I know of which gives such an honest and hard-hitting insight into the pain and distress which the mentally ill and their families have to endure. If you wish to increase your sympathy and compassion for sufferers and their loved ones, then this heart-rending and tear-jerking book is for you.

However, the book’s greater usefulness is limited by the adoption of the purely “drugtreatment model” approach to causes and cures. As we have said, there is unquestionably a physical element to most depressions, often requiring medication. And, in Steve Bloem’s case, there would appear to have been a very large and serious physical problem, which required necessary and life-saving medication. However, it is far too big a step to move from this to proposing the “drug-treatment model” as the only model in every case, and medication as the only solution to every case. In this complex area, it is a big mistake to use one’s own experience as the “norm” for everyone else.

In some ways, the Bloem’s “all-physical” position is understandable. For far too long, Christian writers and speakers in this area have been over-influenced by the Jay Adams extreme position of “all-spiritual” in both causes and cures (see below). However, we must not over-react to one unhelpful extreme (“it’s all spiritual”) by going to another (“it’s all physical”).


Broken Minds by Steve & Robyn Bloem is published by Kregel Publishers at £9.50 (ISBN: 0-8254-2118-7)

Where to buy Broken Minds



Heartfelt Counseling Ministries is a non-profit religious organization which holds an IRS 501 (c) 3 status. HCM is not a counseling agency but a ministry-a ministry to the mentally ill and their families.


Steve Bloem Says:
Dear My life with bipolar disorder,

Thank you for reading our book, Broken Minds. I read some of your comments about how you have been helped by so many people.
The LORD is with us through those who help us.
The hymn by Cowper was awesome.

Are you from Singapore? If you give me your e-mail I will put you on our e-letter list.

Your fellow afflicted one.
Steve and Robyn Bloem


mylifewithbipolardisorder Says:

Dear Steve and Robyn,

Welcome to my blog! Thanks for dropping by and leaving such a sweet and encouraging comment.

Thank you for “Broken Minds”, a very useful book you wrote on your personal experiences which are very vivid and real. I recommended it to several people and they have all benefited from it. Thank God for sustaining you through your very difficult experiences, and enabling you to write a book to help others.

Thank you for reading my posts. It is such a comfort to remember that God is with us when we go through these difficult experiences, and He is assuring us of His love through the kindness of so many people in our life. I thank God for the gifts of so many special people in my life. I am deeply indebted to our Lord and to them.

Yes, I am from Singapore. Thanks for offering to put me on your e-letter list. I will email you my email.

Thanks again for dropping by. Trust you are well and continuing to experience God’s love and faithfulness, as you seek and serve Him together. Hope your book will continue to bring comfort and help to other sufferers. Take care!

In God’s grace,


1. A Firm Place to Stand by Marja Bergen

2. A practical workbook for the depressed Christian by Dr John Lockley

3. An unquiet mind by Dr Kay Redfield Jamison

4. Broken Mind by
Steve and Robyn Bloem

5. I'm Not Supposed to Feel Like This by Chris Williams, Paul Richards and Ingrid Whitton

Excerpts from Books

1. Trust during rough times (Excerpt from "A Firm Place to Stand" by Marja Bergen)

2. Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder (Excerpt from Marja Bergen's article on

3. An illness like any other (Excerpt from "Roller Coaster" by Marja Bergen)

Real Life Testimonies

1. Broken mind by Steve and Robyn Bloem

2. Shedding light on the darkness of depression by John H. Timmerman

3. When you husband struggles with depression by Cheri Fuller

4. Stress and burn out in the ministry by Rowland Croucher

5. Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder by Marja Bergen