At some time in our lives, most of us experience a form of depression. It may be surface, resulting from a sickness, bad weather, a friend's death, or a cut in pay. We may feel down for a few days, but eventually we pull out of our pit and move on to higher, happier ground.
Or we may experience a deeper, more profound depression that lasts, one which we find difficult to impossible to turn around. According to Dr. Karl Hempel in his article, "Treating Depression in the New Millenium" (The Health
Gazette online), symptoms may include the following:
1. Depressed mood most of the day (nearly everyday)
2. Markedly diminished interest in daily activities
3. Significant weight loss or gain
4. Insomnia or excessive sleeping
5. Agitation or slowing of purposeful movements
6. Fatigue-probably the most common symptom of depression
7. Feelings of worthlessness
8. Diminished ability to think
9. Recurrent thoughts of death
10. Reduced sex drive
11. Inability to enjoy activities that have always been fun in the past
If you have been there, you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ten million Americans suffer from depression each year.
Even a look at the Scriptures reveals well-known Bible characters who battled depression. In his book, You and Your Aging Parents, William Coleman describes "Elijah who defeated the prophets at Mount Carmel and then told God he wanted to die" (1 Kings 19:4) and "Jonah who got bent out of shape over Nineveh and told God it was better
if he died" (Jonah 4:3).
As with Elijah who hit rock bottom and prayed to die even after a triumphant defeat of Baal's prophets, we too sometimes fall into depression after a mountain-top experience. Like Elijah,
all we may really need is a good nap and something to eat, or perhaps a change of pace.
Knowing our depression triggers can help us determine what healing measure(s) to employ. Ask yourself:
What in my life has changed that could bring on this depression? An illness? Hormonal fluctuations? An under active thyroid? Death? A move? A relationship change? Change in medication?
Change in diet? Even a momentous event, like a wedding, graduation, birth of a child? Or a spiritual mountain-top experience? Is there a history of depression in my family? A good physical exam should always precede a diagnosis.
The good news is that depression is treatable. While the use of antidepressants is rising steadily, "a growing body of research
shows that patients completing a course of psychotherapy--without medication--relapse far less frequently" (Wall Street Journal, Jan.'04). According to Sharon Begley in her article,
"New Hope for Battling Depression Relapses," "antidepressants reduce activity in the brain's emotion centers with a relapse rate
of 80% in the year after stopping drugs," while cognitive-behavior therapy "quiets activity in the brain area responsible for conceptual
thought, planning, analysis and logic with a relapse rate of 25% in the year after ending treatment."
These findings reiterate what Christians have known for years. Memorizing, meditating, and practicing Scripture can lift depression, as long as the disorder is not the result of a chemical imbalance, which would necessitate the use of an antidepressant, hopefully short term.
Replacing negative thought patterns with positive scriptural affirmations, such as Phil.4:8 instructs, can put your mind in an attitude of praise. As Proverbs 23:7 says, "For as he thinks
within himself, so he is." What we believe about God, ourselves, others, and life in general determines our behavior.
Aerobic exercise can also elevate seratonin levels in the brain, which contribute to a brighter mood. According to Dr. Hempel, exercise alone may not be adequate for the initial treatment of depression except in mild cases. But he has observed "that people who are able to develop a regular exercise program are more likely to be able to stop the antidepressant without a recurrence of symptoms of depression."
It is important to remember that the depressed person is responsible for his own depression. He must not expect others to pull him out of his pit. William Coleman, himself a depression
sufferer, suggests the following things when dealing with depression.
1) Don't demand the depressed person snap out of it.
2) Don't say, "I'll do anything to help you." This can create undo dependence and facilitate the depression.
3) Don't say, "Well, I'm leaving, call me when you decide to get over this." Let the depressed person know he has your support.
In short, avoid extreme actions when relating to the depressed person. Suggest outside intervention as needed, pray with him and for him, point him to the scriptures, and be his friend, but don't own his depression. Ultimately, he must work through it in his own time and in his own way.
Refer to the following resources for further information on treating depression. Listing of these resources does not necessarily mean the writer endorses or condones every method.
Survey the information and make your own judgment in consultation with your Christian counselor, minister, and primary physician.
www.freenet.scri.fsu.edu (The Health Gazette, "Treating Depression in the New Millenium")
William L. Coleman. You & Your Aging Parents. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1994.