Depression: How to Handle It God’s Way
By now you have heard that the famed actor and comedian, Robin Williams, committed suicide by asphyxiation on August 11, 2014. His body was found by his assistant at around 12:00 p.m. PST in his Marin County, California home. Reports on all of the news outlets have been that Mr. Williams was dealing with a case of severe depression or major depressive disorder and had recently been in a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol abuse. Additionally, he was there, according to some, because he knew that he was sinking lower into the depths of his depression.
In one news account, it was mentioned that nearly 16,000,000 people in the United States deal with depression every day. It is one of the most misunderstood illnesses today. If Mr. Williams had a broken arm or leg due to an accident of some kind, then we could understand what is going on with him and the detriment to the mind when injury has occurred. But in the case of a deep depressive episode, because we cannot see the mind of a person, it is unfathomable to so many that anyone can be so debilitated by such a thing as depression. Debilitation due to depression does exist even if misunderstood.
Then there is the issue of suicide. When it comes to suicide, there is a mystery as to why people would kill themselves. We all know well that none of us can enter the minds of those who commit suicide. Even though one may leave a note, a video of themselves or telephone messages for those they leave behind, no one really knows the depths to which the victim of suicide has delved. It seems that in most cases, not even the victims know just how deep they have gone into the darkness and depths of their depression. The only thing that they see is that there is no way out, that there is no hope for whatever situation or circumstance in which they find themselves.
In this post, I will offer you a definition of depression, a testimony, and its causes and its effects on the minds of those who deal with depression. Moreover, I will offer some Biblical solutions for dealing with depression.
A Clear Definition
The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary defines the word “depression” (in the medical sense of the word) as “the condition of feeling sad or despondent; a psychotic or neurotic condition characterized by an inability to concentrate, insomnia, and feelings of extreme sadness, dejection, and hopelessness.” (depression. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage(R) Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/depression (accessed: August 12, 2014).
The Old Testament Hebrew uses two terms as well: 1) dal and 2) mas. The former means “low, weak, poor, or thin.” The latter means “despairing.” The first word is found in 2 Samuel 13:4 which says:
He asked Amnon, “Why are you, the king’s son, so depressed every morning? Can’t you tell me?” So Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar the sister of my brother Absalom.”
The latter word, mas, is used in Job 6:14 which says:
To the one in despair, kindness should come from his friend even if he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
Additionally, in the New Testament Greek, there are two words used for the word “depression”: 1) tapeinous and 2) exaporeomai. The former means “lowly, cast down, or brought low and is used only in 1 Corinthians 7:6 which says:
But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.
The second word means “to be utterly at a loss” and is used only in 2 Corinthians 4:8 which says:
We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair.
From both the secular definition to the meanings of the words that are used in the Bible, we can then define depression as a condition whereby a person feels or thinks that he is at a loss which brings him into a desperate state of mind or into a despairing state of mind and without hope. Dante understood depression very well, he also saw “an intimate connection between hell and the hopelessness of depression. The entrance to Dante’s version of hell read, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” (Edward T. Welch. Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2011.) Depression is a depressed person’s personal hell. It is a dark, gloomy and lonely place. It is a place of which no one is more intimately aware as the person that is depressed.
I have dealt with depression–and at times, I still deal with it. I am not speaking of merely having a blue day now and then. Rather, I am speaking of the darkness that enters the soul, the place that no one would leisurely enter therein for a joy ride. In fact, depression is my constant companion and has been for many years. I have that melancholy personality, you know, the kind that is introspective, isolative and injurious to the soul. At times, I feel so alone even in the midst of a crowd. When I am with friends, it sometimes appears to me that I am nothing more than a sounding board for them when they are unwilling to be a sounding board for me. Even if they volunteered to be a sounding board I sometimes am not even able to speak of what I am thinking or feeling because I do not know what I am thinking or feeling at the time.
When as a child, I remember that I used to play outside by myself. I did this many afternoons. As I grew into my young adult years, I was even more isolative than when I was a child. I did not know what was happening to me. I felt as if that depressive hell was around every corner seeking to devour me. Again, these were not merely blue days. These days were shrouded in darkness and it infiltrated every part of my mind. I could not seem to get out of the rut in which I continued to find myself. Even today, I feel depression in the deepest parts of my being.
I Am Not Alone
And, yet, I am not alone. Many people are plagued with this type of personality. Everything that we experience seems so stressful and at other times, we are fearful and anxious about everything. Social life or even times of recreation and leisure cause us sometimes to feel as if we are floating through an endless barrage of thoughts and issues that never seem to be resolved and only lead to a hopeless state.
In one sense, those of us who deal with depression on a continual basis can relate to Robin Williams. We understand what it is like to be hopeless–not just occasionally, but for long periods of time. There is even a sense that we are willing to take desperate matters into our own hands; and this means even that suicide is an option if it will bring relief to us. However, it does not have to be this way. The reality is that we are not alone by any stretch of the imagination. Remember, there are over 16,000,000 others in the United States that are dealing with depression every day. Yes, our depressions are different from others because of our individual identities, experiences and circumstances. However, we are not alone.
Causes of Depression
So what are some of the causes of depression? There are all sorts of causes. For instance, the death of a loved one is a common reason. My family has recently suffered the death of my twin sister, Denise. Although we believe and know that she is in heaven, it is still a traumatic thing for my parents and siblings. Sickness, exhaustion, hormonal changes, and inadequate nutrition are contributors to depression. Feeling like your trapped in a certain relationship, job or financial situation may be a cause. Perhaps being overwhelmed by school, marriage or work is a contributing factor. If someone has been mistreated, oppressed, mocked or rejected, this can lead to depression. It could be that someone has taken advantage of another. Not being able to meet the expectations of those closest to you can lead to depression whether it is the expectations of a spouse, child, or boss.
On an even more personal note, unrealized expectations that you have held for your marriage, your children, your home, your work, your sense of worth, identity, belonging, usefulness, etc. can lead to depression. Self-pity, envy and jealousy are certainly contributors to depression. Selfishness, guilt and shame are all very common causes. The list is endless. Just about anything that you can think of will cause depression.
Effects of Depression
The effects of depression are very commonly listed as the following:
- Eating habits have changed — either eating more or less
- Lack of sexual drive
- Racing thoughts
- Lethargy when it comes to everyday, routine things that you do
- Suicidal thoughts and/or intentions
People who deal with depression do not always have all of these effects. However, there are many who experience many of these symptoms when experiencing a depressive episode.
Unfortunately, when someone is dealing with depression, they seem to try to avoid the very idea that they are depressed. They keep smiling and thinking that the feelings will go away and that they can recoup themselves in some way. This is merely diversion: not dealing with the issues at hand. Then there are those who will use a victimization tactic. They will let people know that they are depressed for the purpose of gaining sympathy from others. Finally, there are those who will attempt to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps only to find that they are unable to handle it on their own. None of these methods works. If anything, these inadequate reactions to depression only lead to deeper and deeper depressive episodes.
Biblical Principles on How to Handle Depression
Where do we then find hope? How can we get past the depressive episode in which we find ourselves? I hope that what follows will be something that will be helpful to those of you who are dealing with depression or if you know someone who is dealing with depression. But before you proceed, please know that I am not a doctor of psychiatry nor a psychologist nor am I a licensed social worker or counselor. What you are about to read is something that I am finding to be the most helpful to me.
Accept that you are depressed. Many people cannot accept the fact that they are depressed. Instead, what happens is that we try to fight it and fight it and we find ourselves going deeper and deeper into despair. Paul the apostle said in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10:
8 We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair, 9 we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, 10 always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body.
The great Apostle Paul in essence was admitting that he, too, experienced times of being “driven to despair.” Nevertheless, there is a reason for these episodes. It is “that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body.” His perspective is something for which we should consider depression–even though it does not feel like it at the time–as an opportunity to see the life of Jesus manifested in us. There are times of despair but also times of victory. Both despair and victory build the character of who we are in Jesus Christ. It is a matter of perspective.
We need to confess any sin that is in our lives. This is not to say that your depression or my depression is necessarily caused by our sin. It could be caused by another’s sin. However, we need to realize that sin takes a toll on us. King David wrote in Psalm 32:1-4:
1 How blessed is the one whose rebellious acts are forgiven, whose sin is pardoned! 2 How blessed is the one whose wrongdoing the Lord does not punish, in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long. 4 For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah)
To be pardoned of our wrongdoing is of great import. When we are dealing with issues of guilt and shame due to our sin, if we do not confess these things but merely try to hide them, it takes a toll even on our bodies. King David said that “when I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long.” Unconfessed sin does great damage to a soul. Now read how King David answers his dilemma in the same Psalm:
5 Then I confessed my sin; I no longer covered up my wrongdoing. I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.” And then you forgave my sins. (Selah)
6 For this reason every one of your faithful followers should pray to you while there is a window of opportunity. Certainly when the surging water rises, it will not reach them. 7 You are my hiding place; you protect me from distress. You surround me with shouts of joy from those celebrating deliverance. (Selah)
If a person dealing with a depressive episode due to his sin confesses his sin to the Lord, as with King David, he will find forgiveness from the Lord. This is the very reason that we confess anything to anyone: to be released from the guilt and shame that so easily enslaves us. Sin plagues everyone. There is no one who is immune from the ravages of sin. All you have to do is look around you to see this fact. But when we turn to the Lord in confession of our sin, the Lord Himself becomes our “hiding place.” He “protects us from distress.” He “surrounds us with shouts of joy from those celebrating deliverance.” That is something for which we ought to be thankful but also should speak to each other when dealing with depression.
We need to recognized that God is present with us and that we can find sufficiency in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Matthew, the Gospel writer, quoted Jesus as saying, “And, lo, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). The writer of Hebrews quotes the Lord as saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Job recognized that nothing could thwart the purpose of God (Job 42:2). Every depressive episode that you may have is something that God will work together for good according to His purpose and plan for your life (Romans 8:28). Paul the apostle knew this and had every confidence in God through Jesus Christ when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:4-6:
4 Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Paul’s confidence is not in his own adequacy but in the adequacy that is found only in Jesus Christ. In and of ourselves we will always find fault, guilt and shame. In Jesus Christ we will always find that He has loved us with an everlasting love, that He has accepted us in Himself, and there is nothing that can separate us from His love. Read what Paul the apostle wrote in Romans 8:31-39:
31 What then shall we say about these things? I God is for us, who can be against us? 32 INdeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? WIll trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, no things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Moreover, God’s grace is sufficient to see us through these dark times. Read how Paul the apostle explains this idea in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
9 But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Our goal in a depressive episode should be to receive whatever activity God is doing in our lives. We may not readily recognize what it is that He is doing and, quite frankly, we may never know exactly why things have happened the way they have in our lives. But it does not change the fact that His Holy Spirit is with us and that He is our Great Comforter. Read how John the apostle put it in John 14:15-17:
15 If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 16 Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever–17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.
God has given us His Comforter, the Holy Spirit. He is continually working inside of you the things that God is wanting–even through a or the episode that you are now experiencing. In working in you, this means that He supplying your every need as Paul the apostle wrote in Philippians 4:11-13:
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. 12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. 13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.
My twin sister told me something about a month and a half before she died on June 27, 2014. I was headed out with my family for a two-week vacation and I told her over the telephone that I was concerned about two things. My first concern was her. I did not want to be too far from her in the case that something happened to her. The second concern that I had was the price of gas out west. This is what she said to me: “Denny, I’m going to keep living no matter what happens, so you go and keep living.” Her words reminded me of something. They reminded me that there is hope even in the darkest moments of life. She knew she was dying and that the cancer she had was going to take her life. But she was right! She is living today because she lived here in Jesus Christ.
Have I been depressed since my twin sister’s passing? Yes. I admit that I am currently depressed. Do I believe what it is that I have written today? Yes, with all of my heart. It is alright to be depressed as long as we do not get to the point that we take our eyes off of our hope which is Jesus Christ. Today, at the writing of this post, my twin sister is experiencing what I only dream. Therefore, even though I may be depressed because she is not here, I live because of the Living Hope–Jesus Christ–in whom I find my sufficiency and adequacy.
If this is helpful to you, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.