“It is like mixing oil and water”, (you might be tempted to say), for a Christian to actually admit to being depressed, after having known about joy (being one of the manifestations of being spirit-filled)! Sadly, though, a Christian can suffer from depression as a medical diagnosis, but because of the stigma attached to this problem, as with every other disease of the mind, many do not make any real effort to seek useful professional help.
The purpose of this write-up isn’t to write an academic article on depression as a medical condition, per se, but to shed some light on the matter as it affects the Christian—and to show us the possible ways of getting out of it, if it does happen.
The way some see it, depression is wholly a spiritual matter, while some others view it as a matter of the mind. Others, yet, consider it to be solely due to alterations in the balance of the body’s chemical mechanisms. All of these opinions are as right as they are faulty, because God created man as a three-fold being: a spirit, with a soul, living in a body. Therefore, certain physical defects can impact on the thinking processes and patterns of the sufferer; just as the state of an individual’s spirit-man, in relation to his/her relationship with God, can impact on our thought processes. Again, persistent preoccupation with negative thoughts may eventually manifest as symptoms in the body.
Without much ado about the statistics, I’ll just mention it here that 6% of men and 10% of women have a lifetime risk of suffering from depression. And, yes, even Christians are included in this number.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION (IN A CHRISTIAN)?
How can you tell that this could really be depression and not just a case of “having a bad day” or “a bad week”?
Usually, the symptoms we shall be seeing would have lasted for a minimum of 4 weeks. First, it’s important to note that quite a number of Christians may not really fall into the classic psychiatric diagnostic criteria for depression. However, certain behavioral patterns are commonly seen in persons with depression. For ease of understanding, they are grouped into symptoms of feeling, thought patterns, bodily symptoms, and behavioral changes.
#1: Types of feelings: Deep sadness (often with no reasonable cause or explanation); irrational need to cry; excessive outbursts of anger; generally low mood; and feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness.
#2: Pattern of thinking: Negative thinking and conclusions about yourself, your family, the society; and often excessively critical of yourself and others. And so on.
#3: Symptoms in the body: Vague, non-specific, non-diagnosable aches, pains and generalized weakness (heaviness, “hotness”, or peppery sensations), and so on.
#4: Changes in behavior: Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities; sleeping during irregular hours; sleeping too little or too much; and so on.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF DEPRESSION IN A CHRISTIAN?
Depression can be caused by:
#1: Physical and psychological stress: especially among young, working mothers; working too hard, and sleeping too little; guilt and conviction from sin one committed; and so on.
#2: Negative thought patterns and low self-esteem: some persons having been raised in a very judgmental family could make one excessively self-critical. And other similar situations.
#3: Serious health challenge: Especially life-threatening or life-altering or terminal diseases like cancer, or medical conditions involving compulsory and challenging dietary adjustments.
#4: Tragic life-events: like death of family member or loved one, unemployment, loss of job or livelihood, divorce, breakup (and heartbreak),
HOW CAN A CHRISTIAN HANDLE DEPRESSION?
It may come as a surprise to note that a simple prayer or Bible verse often isn’t sufficient to help a person struggling with depression get back on track. As we’ve seen, the causes are many and varied. It, therefore, stands to reason that one would expect that the better approach would be one which is multifaceted.
#1: Responsibility: You have to first admit that there’s a problem, before even attempting to seek a solution. You should be seen to be taking full responsibility for your recovery of your mental health.
#2: Repentance: We’ve seen how sin can cause a Christian to fall into depression, and how often this happens could worsen the situation. If you’ve been convicted of a particular sin, confess it and ask for help to move past the guilt of it.
#3: Restore healthy routines: Humans are creatures of habit, and oftentimes a sudden change in already-established patterns of daily life is sufficient enough to cause one to be depressed. This is easily seen with the birth of a new-born, when a new mother’s life practically changes. In such instances, it’s important to make conscious efforts towards restoring one’s routine to what one has already been used to, as nearly as possible, whilst making healthy efforts towards adjusting to the new changes.
#4: Rest, recreation, and relationships: Re-establish a good sleeping pattern—when to go bed and when to rise. Exercise serves both stimulatory and distracting purposes in the face of depression. This, however, may not be very feasible in the person with a very poor social support system, as the condition itself is often characterized by profound lethargy. Therefore, this modality works best for the individual with a relatively firm social support system. There’s the need to make conscious efforts towards re-establishing relationships and fellowship.
#5: Retraining your thought pattern: Here’s where the need for a good Christian counselor arises. The advantage is even doubled if the person is a trained psychologist. The need to get back into healthy thinking habits is very important, constantly making precise and conscious efforts to renew our minds with more of God’s word. Motivational speeches and words may be of help.
#6: Repair with drugs: Should all of the above measures fail to achieve the optimum state of mental well-being desired, then the need for medication certainly arises. Anti-depressants will help balance out altered biochemical functions in the brain. The caveat to this is that many depressed persons tend to rely solely on medications for recovery, with little or no attention given to the other recovery mechanisms. Medications have to be a small part of a holistic approach on the road to recovery. Without this, the individual only ends up with the side effects of the medications, and, perhaps, may even end up worse off than his initial state.
#7: Reduction: This is especially so for persons with certain personality traits, who tend to take up multiple responsibilities—assigned or voluntary, whether it is in Christian service or their secular jobs. In the face of depression, it’s very important that you reduce the load on yourself. Depression, as an illness, has low energy as one of its symptoms. Now imagine a person who burns himself out physically and mentally for most of the days of the week. That’s risky. Just shed off some of the load.
It’s important to also note that, where possible, the root cause of the depression has to be dealt with, while all these measures have been put in place.
If all these measures are faithfully, and holistically, put in place, with you having the assurance that God holds your hand as you walk through this “valley of the shadow of death”, you’ll eventually be able to overcome your depression. In the end, you’re better suited to help that brother or sister who’s facing a similar struggle, seeing you’ve already walked down that road. You’re better able to offer “…comfort to them which are in any trouble by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
Finally, it is my most sincere prayer for each and every one of going through a phase, which the Lord helps you not only to open up, but also to send the most appropriate and beneficial help. Rest assured that you might be in it alone but you really don’t have to go through it alone. Godly help is only a prayer away, and when you find it, and use the most use of it, you’re certainly on the road to the recovery of the boisterous you you’ve always known.
Dr. Ejiro Beulah Orseer
Federal Medical Centre, Jalingo