Depression. It’s a word hardly spoken but a condition deeply felt by many. According to dosomething.org, about 20 million people in the U.S. deal with depression every year, and 25% of young adults will have an episode of depression before age 24. If depression is so common, why don’t we talk about it more? Why do we act as if those who struggle with it are flawed, or carry a contagious virus?
The answer is simple: the topic makes us uncomfortable.
If we haven’t dealt with it, we have no idea how to relate to those who suffer, and even if we have experienced it, we’re reluctant to be transparent with others who could use our words of comfort. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of being uncomfortable and we’re afraid of how others may perceive us when they find out we have struggled with depression, or, even worse, are currently struggling with depression behind a smiling face. We fear rejection, and so the masquerade and silence continue.
The silence must end.
Christians are not spared, nor are they any less “Christian” for having dealt with depression (take David’s pleading Psalms and the life of Job for example). If anything, I would argue that dark times in my life have made me more loving and understanding towards others while deepening my relationship with God. Often pain is required to drive us back to the foot of the cross and remind us that our Savior is all we have and all we need.
I remember when one of my relatives went through a tough time in her life and had to take psychiatric medication. It weirded me out. Would the medication make her act differently? Would she be herself? I’m happy to say, that her trials made her a better person. She grew in God and developed healthy self-esteem and good habits, both spiritual and physical. My apprehension grew into admiration. I admired her for the strong woman she became through her trials.
There’s so much I could say about depression. I could tell you that that you can be biologically inclined towards depression (like a hereditary disorder). I could tell you that not taking care of yourself, such as not getting enough sleep and not eating well, can add to the possibility of depression. I could tell you that not controlling your emotions and letting them control you will lead to dark times. I could even say that God is not punishing you when you’re depressed and He hurts to see you hurt when you’re struggling to make meaning out of sadness.
But none of this helps when depression has taken control of your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit, because depression has a nasty habit of hijacking your life. When the body fights physical pain, the mind is free and able to think above the circumstances. But when the mind is ill, when serotonin levels in the brain dip below normal, the mind flounders like a fish on land. The mind is clouded, and the one organ that controls all other organs and responses (the brain), is spinning out of control.
If you’re facing depression, you have to be open to getting help. You may need to take medication, go to counseling, and through iron will, over-ride your hijacked mind. As soon as you can, you need to start doing the right things, even if you don’t feel like it. You need to exercise, eat healthy foods, make sleep a priority, and embrace relationships and transparency with those you trust. And you need to go to God daily, and moment by moment. You need to embrace His grace, and you need to be gracious and patient with yourself. Be patient with the process. Believe that things will get better, because they will with time. Believe too that you matter and God cares about you immeasurably.
What if you’re not facing depression, but know someone who is? Be patient with them. Pray for them. Let them know you’re always there for them if they need to talk, or just need someone to hang out with, but don’t pressure them. Keep tabs on them, and encourage them to get psychiatric help if necessary. The brain, like any other organ of the body, can get tired and overwhelmed and sometimes needs a little extra tender loving care.
I pray that you seek God’s face wherever you may be right now: in a valley, on the mountaintop, or somewhere in between. I also pray that if you’re in the midst of a “mountain-top” experience now, that you not forget those in the valleys. Take time to stop and help your brothers and sisters in Christ as we are all loved by the same Father.
May God’s peace and love calm your hearts and minds,
PS: I like to repeat this verse to myself when I start to feel worried and stressed, to keep myself focused on who I am in Christ: “For God has not given us a spirit of Fear, but of Power, and of Love, and of a Sound Mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7, my emphasis added)