By Sandy Quandt
The next time you are tempted to tell your spouse, relative, or friend to “snap out of it” when you believe he’s a bit too moody or melancholy, stop a moment. The behaviors you notice may be more than a case of the blahs. He may be battling depression.
Though some may think differently, depression is a clinical illness. It is not a sign of weakness. It is not an excuse for failing to cope with life’s problems. Depression is as real as cancer. Would you tell someone to “snap out of it” if you knew she had cancer? I think not.
Some think depression is something people bring on themselves. That thinking is simply not true. Depression is a disease. It can affect anyone. Millions of adults in the United States today, both male and female, have been diagnosed with depression. Two-thirds of these do not get help for their depression because of the stigma and shame associated with the diagnosis.
Many with depression feel ashamed and are afraid to mention the dark pit of despair in which they find themselves trapped. They fear rejection from family and friends. They fear rejection from church members. They do not want to accept their depression. After all, the word on the street is, only weaklings succumb to depression. Those who are strong, fight it off.
What is Depression?
Some of us have never experienced depression, and we find the whole idea of such a malady puzzling. What causes someone to be depressed? The truth is, no one really knows what causes depression to strike some and leave others unscathed. There does not seem to be one specific cause for the disease. Several factors can increase the risk of depression. Stress, genetics, hormonal changes, gender, or experiencing a tragedy or loss of some kind usually top the list. People do not ask to be saddled with this problem. Once they are afflicted, they cannot simply will it to go away.
Depression can make it difficult to perform normal day-to-day activities. It affects and distorts every aspect of life: thoughts, actions, feelings, relationships, and even our walk with God. People who experience depression are not the only ones adversely affected. A person’s depression can negatively affect those around him. It can create distance between loved ones, when what the depressed person really needs is support from the very ones who are growing distant.
Depression can make life appear overwhelming. So much so, the depressed person cannot imagine life ever getting better. Depression warps a person’s sense of reality. It can keep its victims from thinking clearly and rationally. At times, depression can lead to thoughts of self-destruction.
Inside the Pit of Despair
If you have seen the movie The Princess Bride or read the book, you may recall the torturous machine designed to suck life from its victims in a most horrific way. The machine was hidden in a secret chamber known as the Pit of Despair. Not long ago I felt as if I had taken up permanent residence in that pit. I felt as if the life and joy were being sucked right out of me.
I hurt all over—and all the time. I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. Because I couldn’t sleep, I hurt more. Because I hurt more, I became depressed. Life became a vicious cycle.
I kidded about being depressed. I often dropped hints here and there, but it wasn’t until I reached the dark depths of the pit that I admitted to myself I was depressed. It took even longer before I dared confide in another person about my struggle. When I finally told two family members I was depressed, I received mixed reactions. One had known for quite some time. The other seemed shocked at the revelation and found it difficult to believe.
Climbing Out of the Pit
I tried to tough it out, but my depression was more than I could handle on my own. I had hit the bottom and needed help.
When the darkness enveloped me like a shroud, I took out my Bible, turned to the book of Psalms, and began writing in a journal. In that journal, I wrote down God’s attributes as I came upon them: “Filled with fierce fury against those who plot against him.” “Ruler of all nations.” “My shield.” “My glory.” “My only hope.” “You alone can lift my head.” “Protector.” “Peace giver.” “Joy giver.” “Healer.” The list ran on for pages. Over and over I repeated Psalm 3:3: “But you are a shield around me, O lord, you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (NIV, 1984). I asked God to be the lifter of my head—to pull me out of the pit of despair. And God was faithful.
With the help of a rheumatologist, I received a diagnosis for the pain I endured each day: fibromyalgia. Through trial and error, an effective treatment plan was put into place. Less pain resulted in better sleep. Better sleep resulted in less pain. Less pain brought more sleep, and less depression. The harmful cycle was disrupted.
In Psalm 40:1-3, David again put into words how I felt.
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord (NIV).
Depression is a serious condition. Healing begins when we admit there is a problem. God hears the cries of the depressed, even when those they meet face-to-face are unaware of their struggle to put one foot in front of the other. Seeking God’s help is critical. God is our joy giver. Spending time in his Word is a must. Strong support from family and friends is also necessary. It helps those dealing with depression realize there is hope beyond the pit that currently ensnares them.
As with other diseases, a doctor’s help is often necessary in the fight against depression. There are treatment plans that can help. Managing stress, getting enough sleep, and exercise are often helpful in alleviating the sadness that accompanies depression.
Those in the pit of despair do not need to be told to “snap out of it.” Believe me, if they could, they would. They need your acceptance and love. While we know God walks alongside us and comforts us when we are distressed, those in the depths of depression also find comfort in having someone “with skin on” do the same.
Sandy Quandt is a freelance writer in Seabrook, Texas.
More About Depression
How Widespread Is Depression?
• According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
• Depression is twice as common in women as it is in men, partially due to the incidence of postpartum depression.
Depression and the Church
• According to Barna Research, “About one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith ‘does not help with depression or other emotional problems’ they experience.”
When Depression Hits
• Major depression is most commonly diagnosed in patients in their late 20s to mid 30s.
• Only 10 percent of the six million people with late life depression ever receive treatment, and more than half of all people caring for an older relative show clinically significant depressive symptoms.
• 25 percent of cancer patients experience depression.
• 10-27 percent of post-stroke patients experiences depression.
• One in three heart attack survivors experiences depression.
• Almost half of all patients with Parkinson’s suffer from depression, ranging from mild to moderate.
• According to Psychology Today, “Eleven percent of the general population now take an antidepressant. Antidepressants are the third most prescribed class of medications in the US—and are first in the 18-44 age group. Rates of antidepressant use have increased an astounding 400 percent in just 15 years. . . . Just one-third of severely depressed people who really need the medication are taking it, while more than two thirds on antidepressants are not currently depressed.”