Depression in church?
Are you surprised that depression is being featured in a Christian newspaper? Contrary to popular views on the pulpit and pews, depression is not a baby boomer or millennial generation predicament. It existed back in the Bible days, and remains present among the “sheep” and “shepherds” today. What other clinical condition so perfectly typifies Job’s and David’s account of their morbid grief and sorrow when they described their “skin cleaving to their bones” and being “laid low in the dust”? It’s a bitter pill for our minds to swallow that Christians can, and sometimes do, battle depression at some point in their lives.
Much of the challenge the condition present is empowered by failure to recognise it and a lack of understanding on how to overcome its occult presence. The resulting cocktail of ignorance spiked with myths is the perfect recipe for stigma. The first victory, in my view as a Christian who is privileged to serve as a psychiatrist, is that of recognition.
What is depression?
Depression is a clinical condition presenting as a morbid, intense state of heaviness of the heart marked with a persistent sad mood, loss of enjoyment of usual pleasures and life companions, and undue fatigue. The three core features need to be present for at least two weeks before a diagnosis is made.
A friend of mine who has been at that point, fought it and now has a trophy of victory that described depression as “life losing its taste”.
Many times, there are associated features such as anxiety attacks, sleep disruption, poor or excessive appetite, weight loss, poor concentration, loss of drive and libido. Feelings of guilt, worthless, helpless and hopelessness commonly culminate in suicidal thoughts. In its most severe form, depression is associated with experiences not rooted in reality, such as hearing voices without sounds (hallucinations) and false tenaciously held beliefs (delusions).
Depression is not an attention-seeking behaviour, self-inflicted condition or a sign of being weak in faith. It is unfeeling and naive to be judgmental by pointing the accusing finger of sinfulness as its ultimate cause. We know that this condition is closely associated with chemical imbalances and physical changes in the brain. It is not a normal state of sadness, hence the common flippant advice for sufferers to “pull yourself together” or “get over it brother/sister” is more damaging than helpful.
Hope for the depressed
My key take-home message is that there is hope for the depressed. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” There is sufficient, convincing research evidence that faith confers relative protection against depression, and also promotes quicker recovery when it sets in.
Here are the five Kingdom Nuggets for Dealing with Depression.
1. Confront depression and seek Help
Acknowledging of depression as a condition to be tackled is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith. Depression festers when denied, as then there is no legitimate reason to seek help, whilst the condition worsens. It is not contrary to faith in God to take antidepressants or obtain psychological therapy just as it is not anti-faith to seek marital counselling for a fledging marriage.
In fact, it may be reassuring to learn that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which in UK is acclaimed as the most versatile psychological therapy; heavily relies on the scriptural principle of guarding one’s heart (Proverbs 4:23) and transformation by renewing one’s mind or thoughts ( Romans 12:1-2), though it is not recognised as such.
My answer to the often-asked question as to whether a spiritual or medical approach should be adopted to combat mental disorders has always been – both! Obtaining spiritual support through prayers does not preclude help from GPs and Mental Health specialists. A holistic approach is the best.
2. Confide about depression
Depression can be a very lonely experience for those going through that “valley of the shadow of death.” Getting a non-judgmental, sensitive and supportive confidant to unburden your mind can bring great relief. We know from research that a lack of confiding relationships is a risk factor for suffering depression in the first instance.
Maintaining confidentiality is an area we all can do a lot more to improve as a community of Christians in our bid to promote disclosure from those standing in faith against depression.
3. Control your environment in depression
Leisure activities and socialising become a chore when depressed. The victory, however, lies in breaking the mould and going against the grain of the natural. Exercise has plenty of evidence stacked in favour of releasing happy brain chemicals. We know that with persistence, going through the motions eventually results in spontaneity. So, it is best to socialise rather than isolate oneself.
Music remains a powerful weapon to combat depression. Fill the atmosphere of your home and car with worship, praise and faith-filled words. If David’s harp playing lifted King Saul’s mood in yesteryears when the ministry of the Holy Spirit was not present, how much more now?
4. Confess against depression
Without fail, my favourite phrase to my depressed patients in order to consciously paint a different picture is “I expect you to recover.” Words create and control atmospheres. Science is now catching up with what scriptures have taught all along. The temptation is to speak unbelief, doubt, and gloom and doom when depressed, however, negative words always create negative thoughts. Negative thoughts (referred to by CBT Therapists as Negative Automatic Thoughts) are known to be pivotal in creating and maintaining the depressed mood and state. Maintain words of faith.
5. Castaway unhealthy emotions of depression
Unresolved difficult emotions such as anger, unforgiveness, and bitterness can only further weigh a spirit that is already heavy. Sometimes the strength to let go comes when one counts the cost of holding on to these toxic emotions.
Depression can be conquered. Be encouraged.