Wouldn’t it be great if healing from depression was as easy as swiping your finger across a screen. Sad face? No worries. Now you are happy!
Ironically, most people that struggle with depression have no trouble putting on a smile. They may even appear–to most people–as content and joyful. The shame or fear of judgement often hinders depressed people from sharing their darker struggles, and the battle wars in an isolated mind.
For years, I’ve struggled off and on with depression. Depending on the balance of my hormones and thyroid (and other clinical factors, such as low serotonin levels in the winter), sometimes I could manage with relative ease and other times, I thought I’d be swallowed whole. Some days I’d wake up, having every reason in the world to be satisfied and happy, and the weight of a bleak mass that turned all that was beautiful into all that is dark and cold. I’d try to conjure up feelings of happiness, but my efforts (praise, gratitude lists, laughter, activities, etc.) wouldn’t pull me completely into the light.
Therein lies the guilt that burdens further. I’d ask myself, “What is wrong with you? Why don’t you just….?” But my emotional state wasn’t contingent on circumstances, but a chemical imbalance I couldn’t control (without the help of a doctor).
Although the Church gradually grows in awareness of the mental illness, for years, Christians have been afraid to share their struggles with anxiety or depression because so many remained ignorant about the condition. If you broke your leg and had a temporary stint on it, you’d never think about running a race. Not only would your doctor advise against it, but the idea would be lunacy. And yet, many Christians tell others, “Just run,” when a depressed believer can barely walk.
For Christians who’ve felt misunderstood and dismissed (or even judged), let me assure you: depression is not a sin. “It’s not a character defect, a spiritual disorder or an emotional dysfunction. And chief of all, it’s not a choice” (Brandon W. Peach). When we tell a struggling believer, “Just have more faith.” or “You have unconfessed sin you need to relinquish.” or “Trust God. Be happy.” Or “What do you have to be sad about?” we only perpetuate a sense of shame and obligation that says, “You should be able to fix your broken leg (on your own, right now, without help) and run that race…with a smile on your face.” Depression calls for outside help.
That’s not to say, we should just throw up our hands and say, “Nothing can be done but to take a pill or see a counselor.” Sometimes those two treatments are imperative, but we shouldn’t quit fighting on our end either. Anything that helps our bodies combat the depression should be applied.
“Being depressed does not disqualify you from being used by God either. Sometimes God uses us in spite of our depression. Sometimes He uses us because of our depression. God wants us to live a life of joy. We also have real and raw emotions, including depression. When you are depressed, don’t hide from the Bible, run to it. Don’t feel condemned, feel comforted.”
― Jason R. McNaughten, Confessions of a Depressed Christian: How a Pastor Survived Depression & How You Can Too
- Read Scripture. Go through the Psalms. David was no stranger to depression.
- Listen to worship music. And engage as best you can. See it as a sacrifice of praise.
- Seek healthy community. As much as you’ll desire isolation, recognize that you need godly believers to encourage and walk alongside you.
- Get professional help. There’s no shame in healing an injury and depression involves a wounded brain.
“[…]people with SAD may have trouble regulating their levels of serotonin, which is a major neurotransmitter involved in mood. Finally, research has suggested that people with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D, which is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. Vitamin D insufficiency may be associated with clinically significant depression symptoms” (PT)
Depression and anxiety, two sides to the same coin, manifest themselves through more than just a weepy melancholy. [n.b. Those battling clinical depression may never even appear sad.]
Look for these symptoms:
1. Loss of interest. If what used to bring excitement, involvement, or a positive effect no longer does, consider why. Some people struggle with apathy; if you aren’t the type of personality to “quit caring”, than you could be dealing with more than fatigue. Also, if you used to be a decisive person and struggle to make a decision (or just don’t care what it is), you may be depressed.
2. Sleep problems. Insomnia (on either end), restlessness, or disturbed dreams.
3. Irritability and increased isolation from people. Are you more reclusive than you used to be? To you find ways to escape instead of join in (what used to engage you)?
4. Volatile emotions. Obviously, not everyone that deals with major mood swings or outbursts is depressed. Some personalities ride up and down the roller-coaster of feelings more than others. Likewise, some depressed people have flat-lined emotionally. Assess your emotional temperature.
5. Fantasizing about death. You may not grab a gun or even buy a bottle of sleeping pills, but if death brings more relief and peace than living, you should discuss your feelings with a trained professional or seek clinical support. Do you have hope? Do you look forward to anything in the future?
[If you think someone is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255]