Depression and Christians: An Overview
Who suffers with depression?
Athletes: Ken Griffey Jr. Herschel Walker, Marcus Dupree, Mike Tyson
Actors/Comedians: Jim Carey, Robin Williams, Heath Ledger, Steve Martin
World Leaders: John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill
Authors: J.K. Rowling, Earnest Hemingway
Celebrities: Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain
Artists: Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh
Musicians: Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Chester Bennington, Kanye West
Notable Christians: John Newton, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, John Bunyan
Biblical Figures: Job, King David, Psalmists, Elijah, Jesus
Depression affects 9% of men and 18% of women. It affects people despite age, wealth, race, success, physical condition or popularity.
It is a spectrum that ranges from taking the joy out of normal activities to rendering a person unable to get out of bed or eat. Sometimes the pain is so great the victim considers suicide the best option to end the pain.
As a matter of fact, the less likely someone seems to be depressed the more depressed they may become. When the depressed person looks around and says, “I’m successful, I ought to be happy but I’m not . . .” that thought leads them to hopelessness.
The fact that Robin Williams was so successful and seemingly happy tormented him his entire life.
1. What does depression feel like?
Waves of Sadness
Loss of appetite
Loss of sleep
Things that once brought pleasure now torment me
Feeling of abandonment, even by God
God created us with emotions, each is important and vital to being a healthy human
Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Shame: Each serves an important purpose (ie. Inside Out)
Sadness is important because it makes us calm down and admit vulnerability. In expressing sadness to our friends, we let them love us in our most true selves without bringing anything to the table. Sadness is a gift that heals our hearts and souls.
But we live in a broken world where everything is affected. When we begin to experience sadness longer than we should, stronger than we ought, or for no apparent reason it often morphs into depression.
Depression creates a spiral of sadness. We wake up and realize we feel sad, we then get sad that we are still sad – which then becomes a trap we can’t get out of.
When you are depressed, you cannot control your emotions, you can’t think clearly, and you can’t tell yourself to snap out of it. In times like that, well-meaning advice begins to sound like words of condemnation.
“Cheer Up” sounds like “stop being so self-preoccupied…”
“Look at all you have to be thankful for” sounds like, “What is wrong with you? Are you broken that you are sad when you have so much?
This can become deadly for Christians who begin to condemn themselves for being sad despite God’s promises. They will often begin to doubt their own salvation and lose all hope of being saved or even savable.
They can even think: God clearly does not love me, because he leaves me sad and gives everyone else happiness.
In the midst of depression, you believe you have been abandoned by or are a terrible burden on your family, friends and even God.
Many suicidal people think they are doing their friends and family a favor by ending the pain.
2. Causes of Depression
- Circumstantial: loss of family member, moving, failing a test, breaking up with boyfriend. Each of these are good reasons to be sad. They turn to depression when the sadness becomes internalized or identified with self. I lost turns into I’m a loser. My boyfriend broke up with me becomes “I am unlovable.”
- Physical: exhaustion either from over exertion or from a lifestyle of poor eating and exercise habits.
- Hormonal: very common for teenagers. When your body is overwhelmed with hormone you simply are not able to control your feelings. I want to curl up and cry every Monday, not for any spiritual or emotional reasons. I simply have burned through all my good hormones the day before.
- Genetic: depression often runs in families. My grandfather, uncle and cousin all killed themselves. I came by my depression via family tradition.
- Trauma: Charles Spurgeon had a disaster happen during worship as a young man, and struggled terribly with debilitating depression the rest of his life.
- Moral Injury: either as a result of being sinned against or of sinning terribly. A person’s inability to forgive and the resulting shame will often times turn into a type of self-punishment by depression.
- Spiritual: Westminster Confession: True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; . . .by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light:
If any of this feels familiar, I have good news for you. You do not have to feel that way forever. Jesus was abandoned by God so that you never will be, nor must you feel that way. But treating depression takes understanding, and the willingness to work for mental health.
3. Treatments for Depression
Depression is more like diabetes than the flu. For some of us, we may never cure it but we can treat it and live full lives with it.
So how do we treat depression?
- Physical Self Care: example of Elijah: eat, sleep and exercise. Exercise is the number one anti-depressant in every study. (WARNING: THIS IS A BAD THING TO SAY TO SOMEONE IN THE MIDDLE OF A DEPRESSED EPISODE! TELLING SOMEONE WHO CAN BARELY GET OUT OF BED TO GO FOR A RUN MAKES THEM FEEL HOPELESS.)
- Mental Self Care: monitor the music you listen to, the books you read and the movies you watch. Get off Facebook and Instagram. Turn off Fox News. Etc. etc. Consider using headspace or a similar mindfulness exercise.
- Self-Talk: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.” ― Martyn Lloyd-Jones Spiritual Depression its causes and cures.
- Proclaim the gospel to yourself. Bathe yourself in the truth that the Lord of the Universe loves you so much that he gave his own son just to have you with him.
- Fellowship: Jesus cried out to his friends “My soul is sorrowful even unto death. Please stay with me and pray.” If Jesus needed his friends in him moments of depression, how much more will we need them. Enlist the right kind of friends and tell them how unable you are to reach out to them when you feel down. Encourage them to reach out to you if they have not heard from you in a while.
- Worship: we need to regularly remind ourselves in the presence of other believers that God is real and knows us. It can be especially healing to go to worship service when grieving is allowed or encouraged: funerals, Good Friday services.
One man told a friend of mine, “I believe Jesus died for my sins, but he has nothing to offer for my sadness.” His mind changed after a Good Friday service of reflecting on the sadness and pain of Christ.
- Professional Help. If the depression lingers, please seek professional help. You may need therapy or even medicine. When someone has cancer, we pray for them and we send them to get medical care. We should do the same with depression, which incidentally is as deadly (suicide is a leading cause of death). Christians have been praying for hundreds of years for a cure to depression, God is answering those prayers through modern science. It would be insulting not to use those answers.