By Kathleen A. Barr
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:47).
We’ll call her “Grandma Joy.” She was enthusiastic, caring, vibrant, and gracious. She loved the Lord and demonstrated her love for him in many ways. Concerned and compassionate, she attracted people like a magnet.
I was surprised when, one day, Joy confessed to me that there were times when she felt depressed. Most who knew her would be astounded if she had disclosed this surprising revelation.
How could this woman who was known for her vivacious personality find herself dealing with depression? Several reasons come to mind.
Researchers have found that those who deal with loss early in life, especially the loss of a parent, often deal with depression as adults. It’s as if the impact of the loss, whether it’s from death, divorce, or abandonment, leaves a scar that never heals and later manifests itself, especially in times of loss, as depression.
Joy was abandoned by her mother when she was a young girl, an event virtually unheard of in the generation in which she was raised. Although Joy forgave her mother for this grievous act, it still left its scars.
As an adult, Joy lived for many years with an unbelieving husband. Thankfully, he accepted the Lord later in life. But for many years, Joy was solely responsible for the spiritual education of her children.
Joy found the secret for dealing with her difficult situations, however. “Praise God!” became one of her favorite phrases. Her ability to praise God for his many blessings lifted her spirit and drew her closer to her Savior. Joy praised God when a baby was born, when others gave their lives to Christ, and when her friends gained small victories. Nothing was unimportant to Joy as she seized every opportunity to thank God for providing for his children.
Joy was a woman of prayer. Ask her to say a prayer, and she made sure she added the need to her prayer list. She realized the power of calling out to God on behalf of those she knew. She spent much time in her prayer closet and firmly believed in the power of prayer.
What Causes Depression?
The causes of Joy’s depression will never be completely known. She went to be with her Lord a few years ago. Many possible explanations exist, however.
Joy took medication to help her deal with her condition. Doctors often prescribe anti-depressants in such cases. Some Christians believe taking medication for depression demonstrates a lack of trust in God. Others, however, see it simply as a medical tool designed to help alleviate a medical problem. Patients who take anti-depressants need to know the side
effects and risks that are involved, and should discuss these with their physician. Many professionals recommend taking these medications for short periods of time, as withdrawal can be difficult after long periods of use.
Bipolar disorder is an illness often linked to both genetic and environmental causes. Feelings of extreme elation may be followed by deep depression. Bipolar disorder often begins to appear in a person’s teens and early 20s. A person who enters a manic state of this disorder often acts out through behaviors such as spending sprees, excessive consumption of alcohol, and drug abuse. Feelings of euphoria lead to out-of-character behavior. When in a manic state, those with this illness often need little sleep and can, at times, stay awake for days. For some, hallucinations and delusional thinking occur. This stage is often followed by a crash, leading to deep depression. Suicidal thoughts, feelings, and, actions are common. Shame about behavior when in the manic state is a contributing factor to experiencing depression.
Bipolar disorder is commonly treated with mood stabilizers. Medical monitoring is essential to ensure that side effects are managed and that doses are adequate to control mood swings. Talk therapy is also used to treat those dealing with this destructive illness. Of course, a deep faith and a vibrant relationship with Christ are also very helpful.
Situational depression occurs when a specific event, such as a death in the family, causes sadness. Clinical depression occurs when this sadness extends for weeks or months. Those who mourn should be given ample time and opportunity to deal with their loss rather than being pressured to get over it and move on. Other losses such as losing a job, ending a relationship, or even the death of a pet may cause feelings of depression. A good listener can be a great help to those suffering from depression. It helps, too, to remember that Jesus Christ experienced loss and abandonment on earth. He knows what we’re going through and is available to listen to our problems.
Spiritual depression can result when an individual’s relationship with God has been hindered, particularly due to sin. Sin separates us from God and causes a rift in our relationship with him. Ask someone with a drug or alcohol addiction, or a person who is trapped in some other sinful lifestyle, if he deals with depression. The chances are high he’ll say yes.
Faulty thinking is another primary cause of depression. Negative thinking, ignoring the blessings of life, anxiety, a failure to forgive, and persistent anger are some of the ways faulty thinking can lead to depression.
The prophet Elijah felt exhausted following the victory God had given him against the prophets of Baal. A threat against his life led him to fear and despondency. God’s remedy was to eat, rest, and continue to do his will.
Triumphing Over Depression
Mental health professionals may recommend psychotherapy as a means of dealing with negative emotions and thoughts. Christian counselors recognize the importance of filling our lives with praise and recommend this as a way to pull out of a depressive state. Christians have the Holy Spirit to help us become more like Christ and emulate his thinking and behavior. Despite the numerous challenges Christ faced, he made doing his Father’s will his first priority. When we do the same, spiritual blessings are promised in God’s Word.
Reaching out to others and helping meet their needs can be an effective antidote to depression. Praying for those with physical, emotional, and spiritual problems helps us realize we’re not alone in our difficulties. Assisting those who need help, whether by taking a meal to a family dealing with illness, offering childcare or transportation when needed, or appropriate financial assistance helps both the receiver and the giver. By giving joy to others, we reap joy in our lives, too.
The potential causes for depression are many in our fallen world. Losses, negative ways of thinking, and biochemical disorders are just some of the reasons. Christians have many resources to help us triumph over depression. A strong relationship with the Lord, reliance on his Word, putting God’s will first in our lives, and meeting the needs of others are all steps we can take to minimize depression’s destructive potential.
Kathleen A. Barr is a freelance writer in Ooltewah, Tennessee.
Helping You Deal with Depression
Scared Silly: Taking on Your Fears, Worries, and What-Ifs, by Marcy Bryan. This book goes after anxiety, hopelessness, and depression with tips and Spirit-given insight—punctuated with humor. Questions for personal reflection or group discussion included.
Available at www.standardpub.com.
Focus on the Family
• Dealing With Depression:
• Life Challenges: Depression:
• Depression: God is Not Silent When We Suffer:
Depression/Bipolar Support Association
Counseling for Christians
Minirth Meier Clinics
For Postpartum Depression