How should a Christian deal with depression? What does the Bible say about depression?
Millions of people, including Christians, suffer from depression every day. Depression can manifest as sadness, low energy, frustration, and extended misery. Very often, men manifest depression through anger and aggression. There are many different sources of depression and several types.
Situation depression is, as the name implies, brought on by adverse situations. Generally, the depression clears with time, as the situation is resolved or accepted. Situational depression isn't necessarily bad. Often, it's a reasonable and appropriate response to the pain of a fallen world (see Lamentations 3:1-18).
Clinical depression is an ongoing condition that lasts every day for most of the day and for longer than two weeks. Clinical depression interferes with day-to-day life at work, school, and home. Sleep habits are also disturbed. Clinical depression can be triggered by trauma, but it is not caused by medication or a medical condition.
Chronic depression is less intense than clinical depression, but can last much longer—two years at least. It's characterized by fatigue, sadness, and general malaise, and it can be punctuated by bouts of clinical depression. Chronic depression doesn't feel good, but it doesn't typically affect lifestyle or the ability to work.
Before the fall of man, there was no sin, no shame, no fear, and no depression. Depression is a result of the fall, and those who suffer from depression find that it has ramifications in all parts of human life—external, personal, mental, physical, and spiritual.
Depression has a strong genetic component; however, many depressive episodes are triggered by an external situation. The death of a loved one is a common trigger. Sustained stress, wintertime, and even a busy life can also lead to depression (Psalm 143:3-4).
Personal choices play a role in depression. It's been said that depression is sin, but it's more accurate to say that sin leads to and feeds depression. Depression can be caused by alcohol and drug abuse, indulging in anger and self-centeredness, and other self-destructive behaviors. Sin always has negative consequences, and part of any therapy for depression should include an analysis of what sins could be exacerbating the situation (Psalm 32:3-5).
Depression is driven by negative feelings, perceptions, and thoughts. Unbiblical beliefs about one's value and ability often contribute to depression. The Bible exhorts us to take thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), to concentrate on the truth of a situation and not a faulty perception (John 8:32), and to rely on God's Word and not our feelings (Psalm 56:4). What a person thinks, feels, and chooses to believe, true or not, can have physical repercussions. Refusing to believe the power and love of God and concentrating on brokenness and pain would make anyone depressed (Psalm 25:4-5, 16-19).
Depression has a definite spiritual element. It can be one of Satan's tools to take Christians out of the work of the Kingdom. Depression can affect our view of God and sap our joy. It is impossible to live a Spirit-guided life without joy (Galatians 5:22; Philippians 4:4). Sometimes, depression may be caused by direct demonic activity (1 Samuel 16:14), but not always. How we handle depression is a highly spiritual matter. The Bible says to cast all our cares on God (1 Peter 5:7). A remedy for a "downcast soul" is to place one's trust in the God who saves. "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" (Psalm 42:11).
Depression can affect our physical bodies in several ways. An injury or illness can trigger depression and then hinder rehabilitation, causing a vicious cycle. Insomnia can do the same. Depression can also be caused by a simple brain chemical or hormonal imbalance that is easily solved with medication. Treatment may require an attack on several fronts—temporary medication to relax the body and relieve the mind, adjustments to the diet, confession of sin, and spiritual counsel.
Depression is a complicated, multifaceted condition. Being depressed is not inherently sinful, and depression is not always caused by sin, nor does it indicate a lack of faith. When depression strikes, the victim needs to make discovering the cause and treatment of the depression a priority.
Sometimes, the victim of depression can just ride it out, trusting that God will bring comfort and that the situation will change. Other times, counseling and medication are required. God desires His children to know joy. Bouts of depression can serve to bring us closer to Him through our struggles (Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7). "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26).
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