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Dealing With Depression
By Richard D. Dobbins
I do not have a better definition of depression than the one given by the National Association for Mental Health: “Depression is an emotional state of dejection and sadness, ranging from mild discouragement and downheartedness to feelings of utter hopelessness and despair.”
Sooner or later all of us know what it means to be depressed. Almost every person, somewhere between birth and death, will come to terms with depression. Although there seldom is a single cause for depression, stress is a major source.
Stress results from pressure, conflict, strain, or just plain, old physical exertion. It is one of the forces we have to learn to live with in today’s world, and depression is one of the body’s ways of dealing with stress.
Neurochemistry is another factor in depression. When a person’s neurochemicals and neurohormones are out of balance, he or she is likely to experience depression. This kind of depression may be linked with periods of very expansive or manic behavior. This is what we sometimes call manic-depressive illness or bipolar disorder.
Because it is linked to a person’s neurochemistry, medication controls this kind of depression very well. You would attempt to restore normal liver, heart, or kidney functions through medication, so why would you want to discriminate against a medical problem with your brain? The brain is the organ of the body your spirit needs most to be healthy, so be careful to provide it with the medication it needs to serve you in a healthy way.
There are ways to know whether depression is bipolar or circumstantial. If there’s no crisis or grief or loss in your life, you can write off circumstances as a cause of your depression. Also, people who suffer from bipolar disorder usually complain that their depression is worse in the morning. Circumstantially induced depression tends to get worse as the day wears on.
If you go back into Scripture, you find that even Bible characters were depressed. When Jacob knew he was going to face his brother Esau, he began to fear. Not only was he anxious, he was depressed (Genesis 32,33). And the psalmist David, wandering from one cave to another and fleeing for his life, prayed, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” (Psalm 42:5). And, of course, there is Elijah. At one time he was up on the mountain, praying fire from heaven and killing Jezebel’s prophets. And shortly after, he is sitting under a juniper tree complaining because life is no longer worth living and wanting to die (1 Kings 18, 19).
Depression does not always take you into deep valleys. It comes in all ranges, from the “blues,” which will usually run their course in three or four days, to grief reactions which may last six months to two years. (If the grief results from sudden and unexpected death, it may last as long as five years.)
Never take risks with depressed family members and friends. If they begin to talk about suicide, get them to a doctor—a psychologist, psychiatrist, or the family physician who can refer them to a mental health professional. If we can protect them and bring them back from the brink of suicide, they will recover from the depression with no lasting harm. And, in most cases, the person will never be suicidal again.
There Are Ways To Help People With Depression:
A combination of counseling and medication is the shortest way out of depression. Do not shortchange yourself on either end of that approach. You need to be counseled by a godly pastor who knows how to help depressed people or a Christian mental health professional.
You need to understand biblical ways of dealing with circumstances out of which your depression grows. God has a positive way to look at all of life’s negatives: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Medication cannot replace prayer and Scripture, but it can put you in a frame of mind to benefit more from these spiritual resources. Do not deprive yourself of all these resources . . . and help your family members and friends suffering from depression to use these resources as well.
These Suggestions May Help You Get Through the Pain of Depression:
The way you feel reflects your estimate of your self-worth. When you measure self-worth by feelings, your depression only deepens. Your self-worth is determined by the price Jesus paid for your redemption. You were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18,19).
Remember the transient nature of your feelings. You have been depressed before and survived it; you will survive this, too. Remember the many times in Scripture where the phrase “and it came to pass” is used. Your bad feelings, too, will pass. They have not come to stay.
Learn to rate the depressions you have experienced and that you now experience on a ten-point scale: one being the least you have even been depressed, to ten being the most you have ever been depressed. This will protect you from generalizing any low feelings in your present to your future. Doing this helps you keep your present depression in perspective and reminds you that you have suffered worse depressions—and you have always survived them in the past. Remembering how past depressions came to an end can help you survive your present depression.
Understand the need to recover from grief and allow yourself a normal recovery. Do not rush your recovery from grief-induced depression. Realize that grief work of several months after a great loss is normal. Normalizing your recovery itself will help you find hope.
Sometimes it is necessary to stay away from people who are a source of negative conversation, complaints, and criticism. Some families are this way, continually talking in the negative, seeing a glass always half empty instead of half full.
Our feelings determine our thoughts and our conversations, both internal conversation and those conversations we have with others. We learn to “feel” at least two years before we learn to talk. A child growing up in a home where there is little peace and harmony but a lot of yelling and even violence has more pain underneath his thought process than he has pleasure. So we must be sure we talk positively around family members, especially around children.
Sometimes, when a person accepts Christ, his or her whole worldview changes. But very often after one is born again, he or she still has the need to reinterpret painful parts of his or her past. This is a part of the theological process of sanctification that allows you to relive the hurtful parts of the past and see them from a biblical point of view, flooded with the love of God and a healing application of Scripture.
Here Are Some Guidelines for Dealing With Depression:
1. Accept a certain amount of depression as being par for the fairway of life. All of us get into the rough once in a while. If your depression does not last more than a few days, forget it.
2. Find the source of stress causing your depression. In our fast-paced, stressful society, look at what is happening in your family, your marriage, your job, and your church. It is important to identify the source of the stress and deal with it in the office of a pastor or Christian counselor.
3. Allow your Christian worship and church experience to be a positive, “up” time in your life. When you go to the house of God as a Christian, think “up” and don’t think “down.” Don’t be a critical or negative Christian. Allow the church and God’s people to be your sanctuary, your shelter, a place where the Lord wants to bring you help for your depression.
4. If your depression is medical, allow yourself the medications you need to bring relief until God helps you experience a more perfect form of healing. Denying yourself medical help also denies God greater productivity from your life. Take care of your mental health just as you would your physical health.
5. When you are suffering from a loss or a crisis in your life that has brought depression, it is very important for your recovery to talk about it. Good counseling is important, either from a trusted pastor who is trained to counsel or from a competent Christian mental health professional.
6. Stay busy and avoid brooding over your depression. There is a lot of truth to the old adage that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Stay busy and active. Do things you normally would enjoy, even if you do not enjoy them while depressed. They are familiar to you and will keep you from brooding.
Richard D. Dobbins is founder of EMERGE Ministries, Inc., Akron, Ohio.