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Depression is defined by the DSM V this way:

• Depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for more than two weeks.
• Mood represents a change from the person’s baseline.
• Impaired function: social, occupational, educational.
• Specific symptoms, at least 5 of these 9, present nearly every day:

1. Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).
2. Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day
3. Significant weight change (5%) or change in appetite
4. Change in sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia
5. Change in activity: Psychomotor agitation or retardation
6. Fatigue or loss of energy
7. Guilt/worthlessness: Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
8. Concentration: diminished ability to think or concentrate, or more indecisiveness
9. Suicidality: Thoughts of death or suicide, or has suicide plan

I’m here to say that depression, even within Christianity, is SO much more common than people are willing to admit.

And the tough thing is that we don’t talk about it.  And that leads to isolation…

Which leads to more depression.

But how are we supposed to deal with depression?  How does our faith come into play?  Is it wrong, as a Christian, to be depressed?  Does it demonstrate that we don’t really have hope in God?  Is our shame justified?  Why can’t I just get out of bed in the morning?  When did I start hating myself so much?

There are so many questions to be answered, and I don’t intend to answer them all in this article.  My goal is to give an overview of depression from a Christian perspective so that we don’t need to feel like we’re all alone.  So that we don’t need to feel like it will never end.  So that we can talk about this very difficult problem of life openly.

Where Does Depression Come from?

depression standing on fenceThe causes of depression are extremely complex.  I’ve listed a few reasons below, and for most people, it is not just one cause that brings about this condition.  It’s often a combination.

1. Pathophysiology

This post on Harvard’s health research department’s website gives a really great overview about the physiological and pathophysiological reasons that someone might experience depression.

It’s very complicated, and includes involvement of different dysfunctioning systems and organs in your body, such as the amygdala, thalamus, hippocampus, neurotransmitters, and genetics.  Even certain medications (which are supposed to help) can actually cause depression.

2. Life Crises

Trauma, early childhood trauma, divorce, loss of job, change of location, death of a friend or relative, and on and on.

These major stressors in life can be just enough to push someone into a depressive state.  They not only make a person just feel sad (an understatement, I know), but they also literally change the composition of people’s physiology (see above).

3. Spiritual Warfare

Sometimes, it is literally just because the Evil One wants you to feel terrible about yourself and about your relationship with others and with God.

Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Very clearly, there are forces at work which want nothing more than to make us fail, to make us hate ourselves.  And this is for the purpose of making us useless and ineffective for God.

There are forces at work which want nothing more than to make us hate ourselves. #depression Click To Tweet

4.  Unknown Reasons

And sometimes, we simply have no explanation for why someone feels depressed.  The lab-work comes back fine.  There have been no major changes in a person’s life.  And they have a vibrant faith which has carried them through difficulties.

But they still have no energy, gain weight, and isolate themselves.

It’s so tragic, and so frustrating, when this is the case.

How Do Christians Think about Depression?

depression elder manThis is one of the most difficult things about depression.  Somehow, so many Christians have gotten it into their heads that if someone has depression it is definitely either due to a sin or a choice or a lack of faith.  They say that medications and treatments are only for the weak in faith.

And this is so damaging.

How can a Christian who already struggles with hopelessness and self-loathing get out of that funk by being told that the very reason they feel this way is because they’re worse than they thought they were?

Yes, sometimes depression is caused by sin, choice or lack of faith (which fall into the “Spiritual Warfare” category above), but the response of clinical depression is not a normal reaction.

Additionally, as an outsider looking in, you cannot know for sure if those things are causing it.  And it is highly insensitive and patronizing to assume that you do know.

And lastly, but most importantly, even though it is sometimes the case that depression is caused by poor personal decisions, it is not always or even usually the case.

Thankfully, a lot of Christian literature is being published these days which also acknowledge the outside causes of depression, and are understanding toward those brothers and sisters who struggle (click here for an example).

How Does Depression Affect our Faith?

depression man smokingDepression is so destructive because the person experiencing it feels like it will never end and there is no hope.

This will obviously affect our day to day life in respect to our faith.

It makes us feel like nothing we do will ever work.  And then we ask ourselves, “why even try?”

So we drop out of leadership responsibilities.  We start taking out our frustrations on our friends and families.  We stop participating with the church in community activities.  We stop being bold.  We stop taking steps of faith for God.

We stop everything.

And what makes it worse is that when we know the right thing to do is go to the Bible, we find that there are NO easy answers.  There might be simple answers, ones which seem trite as we read it in a depressed state of mind.  But nothing is easy about the solutions offered by Scripture.

For example, Matthew 6:25-34 tells us not to worry.  But then we scream out in our heads, “Well, of course, I should stop worrying.  Easy for you to say!!!  How am I supposed to just will myself out of this state?  I don’t want to worry.  But no matter what I do, I still feel anxious and hopeless.”

I’m not saying it’s the right biblical response to a beautiful passage like that one.  But I’m saying that is how depression affects us.

#Depression is so destructive because the person experiencing it feels like there is no hope. Click To Tweet

What Can We Do about Depression?

depression together with other peopleI’ll start by saying this – Just as the causes for depression are complex and are usually a combination of multiple modalities, the ways we help depression are just as complicated and also involve multiple modalities.

1. Talk about it

Don’t just talk about your depression with anyone.  Talk about it with the leaders of your church.  Most likely, they have gone through depression themselves at some point and can help.

But more importantly, if they’re worth anything as leaders, they can design a comprehensive shepherding strategy which will include everything on the list below.

And for the things that they cannot provide themselves, such as prescription medications or medical treatments, they can help connect you with physicians and psychotherapists as needed.

But remember that psychoanalysis and psychotherapies are NOT the most important treatments for you.  It will certainly be helpful in pinpointing certain causes of depression, and can help treat some of it.  But it will not be fixed completely because these disciplines do not contain spiritual remedies.

You need Christ and His Holy Spirit working in you through the guidance of your church leaders.  And as you deal with this very complex condition, they need to be the ones who are in the loop about it all so they can make decisions with you about all the different modalities you’ll need assistance with.

Something like a spiritual case worker.  But more like a shepherd.

*Note*  When you approach someone to talk with them, remember that it’s not their fault either.  It would be really easy, when opening up about something intensely personal, to start throwing around unwarranted accusations and blaming them for things which are not their fault.  Use statements like, “I feel…” and focus on your own struggles, rather than on problems you have with others.  Don’t let it just become a venting session.

2. Medications

There is no shame in acknowledging that your body has undergone physiological changes either causing or in response to depression.  And medications can help.

I’ll say it again.

There is no shame in acknowledging that your body has undergone physiological changes either causing or in response to depression.  And medications can help.

Medications do not make you less of a Christian.  You take antibiotics when you have an infection, and there’s no fuss over that.  Why would it be wrong to take a medication that assists your dysfunctioning neurotransmitters?

So talk with your physician and don’t let some self-righteous (or at least misguided) Christians tell you that you should feel shame about medications.

Medications do not make you less of a #Christian. #depression Click To Tweet

3. Medical Treatments

In addition to medications, there are certain medical treatments which are effective in treating depression.  The primary medical treatment (outside of psychotherapy) is electrotherapy.

I know it sounds barbaric, but it has been proven that electrotherapy is not only painless and humane in our day and medical age, but also extremely effective.

Consult with your physician about a treatment like this.

4. Understand You’re Not Alone

I’m going to let you know that almost every single leader whom I respect and love as a brother and/or father has experienced depression.  It just kinda seems to go with ministry.

I know what you’re thinking – but those guys are the spiritual giants, there’s no way they have experienced lows like I have when their faith is so strong.

But I’m trying to tell you that despite their strong faith, I know about times in which they still experienced long periods of self-doubt, self-loathing, self-destructive behavior, hopelessness, anxiety, and the like.

Additionally, we also know that great men of God in Scripture suffered from depression.

Elijah had said, “I have had enough, Lord… Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Jonah cried out, “Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

David lamented, “I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning… I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.”

You are not alone.  Not at all.  Many of your brothers and sisters understand the hopelessness you feel, because they’ve experienced it themselves.

If no one else, I, the author of this article and your brother in Christ, understand.

You are not alone. Not at all. #depression Click To Tweet

5. Participate in Habits, Even if You Have No Desire to Follow Through

depression playing guitarOne of the best things you can do for yourself is just keep up your daily habits.

And it will be extremely difficult to do so.  But keeping up a routine will help you stay on top of your responsibilities even though you are torn up on the inside.  It allows you to experience a normal life, even though you don’t feel like you could ever have one.

So get up at the same time everyday.  Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even if you don’t feel like it, and even if you don’t eat much.  Go to work.  Be in the same room with your family, even if in that moment you can’t get yourself to say anything.  Show affection to your spouse, even if it’s mechanical.  Even if you can’t get yourself to feel anything.

Go through the motions, if you have to.  But continue your habits.

6. Read the Scriptures Concerning Hope

I know I said that the Scriptures do not contain easy answers for depression.

It’s true.  But taking time to continually force yourself to read important passages about God freeing you from depression can, over time, actually help you to experience it.

He is the Holy Spirit working through you, after all.

Take a look at this outside article which contains a great list of Scriptures to go to.

7. Remember Who You Are in Christ

If you have believed the gospel, then you have been given a new identity.  It is a lie to believe that you are worthless.  Christ died for us, because we were worth it.

You have been given the love of God, and have been chosen to be adopted into His family.  You are a Son (or Daughter) of Abraham.  You are a friend of God.  You are an heir to The Promise that God will bless the whole world through Christ and His followers.  You have been given a good (though certainly difficult) work to accomplish.

You are a Son (or Daughter) of God.

C.S. Lewis‘ character Prince Caspian, in the book Prince Caspian, was ashamed of his life and his heritage.  Aslan, the Christ-like lion responded saying,

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve… And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

And that is one of the greatest defenses we have against depression – being content.  Remember who you are in Christ.  Remember His love for you.  Work hard in remembering these things.

Your family, your church, and your city need you.  If you can’t do these things for yourself, do it for them.

Do it for Jesus.

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