Monday, May 01, 2006

SAD...


Someone asked me to write on depression…so today I will. Depressed, have you been there? Have you ever been in a real dark hole? I have. That may surprise some of you. After all, many people think that Christians shouldn’t feel depressed, and if they do, they must be failures! This certainly is a big stick with which I have seen many Christians beat themselves with. It made them feel worse and made the dark hole they were in feel even darker and deeper. Yet I can not find any example of such action in the Bible, even though it deals with many people who were depressed. Rather than beating people up, God dealt with individuals in loving ways.

It is important to remember this when dealing with people who are depressed, as what appears a trivial stimulus to you, may in fact be ‘the last straw’ for them.
How did I deal with my situation? I covered it up to those around me, for fear of losing face and making myself vulnerable. I kept telling myself I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. Every morning when I went out to work I put on my mask of ‘all is well in the world’. To everyone else I seemed my usual self, but inside I felt thoroughly miserable and as soon as I got home again the mask came off and I could stop the pretence. I remember sitting in church on some occasions wanting to scream out.

What were the main things that brought me out of this? Well, firstly I tried to assess my feelings and reactions to situations. This is not easy when on occasions you feel yourself spiraling down and find it difficult to remember what made you start feeling low in the first place. Secondly, I never stopped reading my Bible. It’s important to keep reading God’s word and meeting with his people, even though you don’t feel like it, because these are very often the means of keeping yourself sane and allowing God to speak to you. No matter how bad you feel, don’t spite yourself by cutting off some of your routes to recovery. For me it was a process. I didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and feel on top of the world. It took time. If you’re feeling low you need to allow God and time to restore you. Similarly, if you know of someone who’s feeling low be patient with them.

Depression is not a particularly modern phenomenon. The psalmist who wrote Psalms 42 and 43 knew what real anguish was. However, he also knew where his help lay. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah hit rock bottom and asked God if he might not die. However, God dealt graciously with him and met his needs. Even Moses hit rock bottom when the burden of leading the Israelites was too great for him (Nu 11:10-15). He wanted to die as well, because he couldn’t take the strain any longer. Does this sound familiar? Even this great hero of the faith was so depressed that he wanted to die. Yet later in the passage we see how God lovingly dealt with him. God didn’t make him feel worse or give him a hard time. Instead he gave Moses exactly what he needed - more men to help and share the burden. These are the actions of a loving and understanding God. We would do well to learn from the example of the great Master and Healer.

BUT we need to use the Bible with sensitivity. I would warn against being tempted to ‘throw’ glib verses at people, just to make them (and yourself, for that matter) feel better. I think this can be one of the most uncaring and hurtful actions that you can take. For example, I remember dealing with a Christian man who was really quite depressed and had been for some months. But what made his depression worse were his Christian friends and his church. No-one had a grasp of how he felt, rather they thought that he shouldn’t feel like that. So week after week they would give him ‘a wee verse’ to cheer him up. These ill-thought actions only made his depression worse. The book of Job may teach us how to avoid being an unhelpful ‘comforter’. There is a time and place for using God’s word, but it must be in a caring manner. Often a hurting person just needs to know there is someone there for them.

Many prominent Christians in history have also been dogged with feelings of depression or anxiety. They include Martin Luther, John Bunyan, William Cowper (hymn writer), Lord Shaftesbury (the great human rights reformer), Gerard Manley Hopkins (poet), Christina Rossetti (poet and hymn writer-check the name under some of the well known Christmas carols!), Amy Carmichael (missionary), JB Phillips (theologian) and CS Lewis. I urge you to read their stories in the book ‘Genius and Grace’.

Why do people get depressed? It’s probably a multifactor thing.
Genetics. Identical twins reared apart show 60% more concordance for depression than dizygotic twins.
Biochemistry. There are excesses of 5-hydroxytryptamine receptors in the frontal cortex of brains taken from suicide victims.
Endocrinology. Approximately one third of depressed people do not have normal cortisol suppression in the dexamethasone suppression test.
Biography. Adverse life events are important (eg job loss, divorce).
Psychodynamic reasons. Freud said that depression mirrors bereavement, but the loss is of a valued object and not a person. Others support the idea of learned helplessness.
Vulnerability factors. Physical illness, pain, lack of intimate relationships.
Spiritual factors.

Depression and its associated feelings are very common. Each year, it is estimated that 40% of the population have feelings of depressed mood, unhappiness and disappointment. Of these 20% will experience a clinical depressive syndrome, in which low mood is accompanied by sleep difficulty, change in appetite, hopelessness, pessimism, or thoughts of suicide.

Thoughts?

7 comments:

Little Worshiper said...

Why is it we're told that life will be awesome when we grow up and get a job, have a spouse, and some kids? If we just "reach our dreams" life will be awesome and we'll always feel fulfilled. Wow, was I in for a rude awakening. It seems like the people of the Bible are portrayed as these awesome people who were close to God. The thing about Moses wanting to die because of the responsibility of leading the Israelites.. .that impacted me. And yet, when i say i can relate, i feel selfish because i'm only leading a small number, not a whole nation. Yet, that's how i feel and that's what makes me feel depressed. Where's the line between actually having a right to feel depressed and being selfish about your situation?

(Not much of a) righteous bovine said...

Great article Soulpastor!

However, be careful not to confuse stress with depression. While the two often go together, they are not necessarily the same thing.

Little Worshiper said...

I think this is an important topic. Come on everyone... share a bit of what you think. It would really help me a lot.

Misty said...

Soulpastor,

Thank you so much for having the courage to not only address this topic but be honest about your own experience of depression. I have struggled with this for most of my life. I thought that when I became a Christian my struggle would be over. It was anything but over. In fact after becoming a Christian my struggle intensified in a lot of ways. Soon after becoming a Christian I was exposed to theories that depression was a stronghold that if I had enough faith I could rid myself of. I made it worse trying to do that.

I liked your advise to those trying to support those with depression. I would add that you really can't cheer someone who has depression up. You can be with them and support them but not necessarily make it go away. That takes time (Proverbs 25:20 Singing cheerful songs to a person whose heart is heavy is as bad as stealing someone's jacket in cold weather or rubbing salt in a wound.)

In terms of what works for me, I have found that I pretty much always have to admit to someone that I am depressed. I am fortunate that I have people I can trust with that information. As for reading the Bible, often concentration is an issue for people with depression. So it is difficult to read. However the idea is to do WHAT YOU CAN. If it is just reading a certain passage over and over do that. Also if prayer is difficult ask other people to pray for you and with you and when you are alone try writing out your prayers.

Little worshipper I think that people who struggle with depression can get caught up in thinking there is something they can do to change how they feel. Often the process of healing from depression involves a series of baby steps. There is nothing selfish about it. If someone is truly depressed, they have no choice.

MBK

Horst said...

Depression can be devastating! Well-meaning but uneducated, or trite responses can be spirit crushing.
We need to spend more time and energy raising awareness and understanding of the realities of this struggles as well as what is helpful, and what exacerbates the crushing feelings and thoughts.

I cannot control when waves of depression role over me, but I can take responsibility for how I respond to my experience of depression. I can choose to give in to it, confess my despair and helplessness, and settle in to the black hole, not knowing when or how I'll get out of it. I can also ackowledge my struggles, give myself permission to rest if I need to, and I can choose to keep going despite the depression. Sometimes I need to sleep for a few days; more often than not, I push myself to maintain some of my "normal" activity (at a less intense level); I have developed connections with people who understand what I'm going through, who will listen (without offering unsolicited solutions), and who will just be with me.

Depression,undiagnosed for most of my life, wreaked havoc! It was a significant factor in the breakdown of my first marriage, cost me many opportunities as well as friendships. What I did gain, though, was a stronger faith and reliance on God. I lost just about everything except my faith and looked to God in prayer and meditation, trusting that he would direct me where He wanted me to go, and help me makesense of the experience.

Through many miracles, I have recovered and now work as a mental health educator and advocate, teaching about recovery from mental illness, what it involves for the person in the process, and what people need to assist them in their recovery. I have been blessed! The depression, which had me on the brink of suicide on a few occasions, and which kept me in despair and chaos until my mid forties, has become the springboard of a career, a new family, new friends, and contentment for me.

SoulPastor said...

Great word Horst!
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article, Pastor.
At a time when many in my family died and I was physically ill, I went to daily services at a local Anglican church so that I could pray with the church and get inside the liturgy, hearing the scripture and receiving the many gifts of God--Word and Sacrament, prayer, anointing of oil at the weekly healing services. This really carried me along.
Thanks again