Monday, May 01, 2006
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.
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.
Posted by SoulPastor at 5:56 PM