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Was King David Clinically Depressed or Bipolar?

by Cate Russell-Cole  
6/19/2015 / Bible Studies


Because the Psalms record the highs and lows of his life, people have referred to him as being bipolar. It is highly unlikely. Please see this page on David's personality and read about the Psalms for a better answer to the bipolar issue.

As far as depression goes, I find David to be a highly motivated, active, productive, life-loving man. He didn't want to die and he wept and mourned when he had excellent reason to. I cannot find extensive evidence of repeated instances of clinical depression which had little or no cause, though it could have been the case. I will keep an open mind. What I can see, is plenty of reason for reactive depression, associated with multiple instances of grief. This occurred when his first son to BathSheba died, then Amnon raped Tamar, then Absalom murdered Amnon, all within several years. Earlier in his life, I see him being realistically afraid and worn out at times, but not experiencing depressive episodes.

As a social worker, understanding grief psychology is part of my role. The worst grief is associated with losing a child. It is magnified to an unbearable extent when that loss has been associated with a murder which has been committed by another one of your own children. For David this is then magnified even further, as the prophet Nathan had forewarned David, that these things would happen as a result of his sin with BathSheba. Add severe guilt to grief and you have pure, living hell which David never fully recovered from.

Parents whose sons have been incarcerated for murder go through a grief process like no other. When two children are involved in the murder, it is a triple loss (death and loss of trust in the surviving son, plus separation due to incarceration), plus their emotional and mental energy is pulled in two directions. People cannot be totally supportive and sympathetic towards both children at the same time, there is simply not enough energy in an overloaded heart for that. In David's case, he grieved Amnon's death (his heir to the throne) and rejected Absalom for a long time.

Absalom was obviously terrified of approaching his father (who had a passionate temper and under the Laws set down through Moses, should have had Absalom executed), so Absalom sought sanctuary. The relationship between David and Absalom never fully repaired, though David grieved heavily went Absalom overthrew him as ruler and was subsequently executed by Joab, against David's orders.

Under circumstances such as these, long term depression can only be expected. In addition, David withstood conspiracies to overthrow his position as king, he was frequently persecuted for the strength of his faith and he was ill, which can also lead to low mood swings. In the same situations, you wouldn't feel too cheery either.

If you would like to understand more about what a parent goes through when a child commits murder, read this article. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/augustweb-only/8-9-42.0.html?start=5) Though I warn you, it will tear your heart out. I know David did the wrong thing with BathSheba, and some of what occurred after is also due to poor parenting and bad role modelling; however the penalty is abhorrently severe. But that is what life without grace is like. My heart really goes out to him. David had a hard life in many ways.


There is an additional article on the King David Project's Masada Rain blog which talks about the impact Amnon's murder would have had on David and his family. You may like to view it here: https://masadarain.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/when-research-breaks-your-heart/

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For more information on King David, please have a meander through the King David Project Facebook page, our web site and our blog, Masada Rain. The blog houses many useful resources on studying, David plus bits and pieces of information which dont neatly fit into article form. Please ignore dates and use the search feature to find what you want. The web site has resources on Davids family tree, life and the Psalms. All content is creative commons and non-profit. Sharing of the projects work would be deeply appreciated.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fromdespairtodeliverance
Masada Rain Blog: https://masadarain.wordpress.com
The project web site: http://cateartios.wix.com/kingdavidproject
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This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Written in Australian English.

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