According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability in the world today. It affects 2-5 per 100 people in the population.
But 1 in 5 to 1 in 10 of us will suffer depression at some point in our lives.
Women are twice as likely to suffer as men. Possible reasons: higher rates of anxiety and susceptibility to stress? Biological and hormonal influence?
In Christian counselling, it is by far the most common issue.
Below you will find some of the symptoms of depression. It’s important to say that if you have a few of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you are depressed. You would need to be exhibiting several of these symptoms consistently for 2-4 weeks before you would think of depression. And then you should see your doctor so that a proper diagnosis can be made.
All or some of these areas can be affected:
You may notice some of these behavioural changes:
You stop doing things which previously brought you pleasure
You may suffer from some of these consistently:
Loss of enjoyment; apathy
Preoccupation with self
Re Self: lack of purpose; worthlessness
Re the world: negative
Re the past: ideas of guilt – you may fixate on something which others have long ago forgotten
Re the future: a sense of hopelessness
Depression affects our fellowship with God, as it affects everything else.
You may identify with some of these:
Withdrawal from community of God’s people
Unresolved guilt e.g. Ps 32
Loss of sense of joy/peace
Difficulty praying/reading Bible
Lack of assurance
How can we understand depression from a spiritual perspective?
We are spiritual beings living in a fallen world
We live in a fallen world – ‘In the world you will have tribulation’.
Some people have a vulnerability, e.g. a child of a parent who suffered depression is 3 times as likely as general public to suffer from depression.
Previous history – person who has suffered one episode is more likely to have another episode.
Relationships – conflict and difficulty.
Life circumstances – 70% cases of depression are caused by life circumstances and usually a loss. Not just the life event but our perception of it, especially if we feel we have some responsibility for it; and risk can last for several months after the event.
Earlier hardships that leave their mark, e.g. abuse.
Culture we live in – misleading voices.
We are embodied souls and our bodies are subject to the curse, frustration.
Bondage to decay (Romans 8) – weakness.
Chemical imbalance? Hard to know what causes what.
Is it sinful to feel like this?
a. No evidence in Psalm 42-43:
‘Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.’ Ps 42:5
b. Jesus was ‘exceedingly sorrowful’, deeply distressed (strongest of the 3 Greek words for ‘depression’; he said ‘let this cup pass from me’ (Matthew 26:36ff).
c. Lam 3 ‘I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light….my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”
These passages validate the feelings of the depressed person and give us hope.
The question is not ‘Is it sinful to feel like this?’ but rather ‘Where and how do I seek help, comfort, refuge from all the hard stuff of depression? how can I respond in faith to these symptoms and this situation?’
Remember that progress is slow and not steady – there will be ups and downs. We need a cheerleader who will help us to see the global picture when we are discouraged by the setbacks.
We need to learn to live by faith, not by our feelings. Even when life seems dark and all is black, God is still there, although we do not feel his presence. Some of the most heroic people I know are people who live with depression and still hold on to their faith.