What is Depression?
An article by Scott Slayton
When I speak about depression in this post, I refer to a prolonged sense of sadness. It can be characterized by a depressed mood, lack of pleasure in activities you usually enjoy, a sense a guilt and shame, increased fatigue, excess sleep, changes in appetite, or excessive contemplation of death or suicide.
The Bible uses the language of darkness, distance from God, and feelings of despair to describe the pain of depression. Psalm 88 contains the darkest of the Psalm’s laments, with the author saying his soul is full of trouble, that he is like the slain who lies in the grave, and that he is like one God remembers no more. Depression hurts. It causes us to feel distant from God and the people around us.
How can Christians seek help for depression?
Many Christians remain distrustful of “secular” psychology and are slow to acknowledge that they or someone they love struggles with depression. In addition, if you have never been diagnosed with depression, you may not know that this is what is happening to you. I fall into the latter category. For years I struggled, especially in the winter, with crippling doom and despair. When someone would suggest I was depressed, I scoffed because that was something only “weak” people dealt with. Finally, as I heard a Christian describe what depression feels like, I thought, “wow, that’s me.” I joined the weak people who struggle with depression and thank God that he helped me figure that out.
If you are struggling with depression, first seek out a mature Christian friend, pastor, or Christian counselor. They can talk with you, pray with you, share Scripture with you, walk with you, and help you to gain some perspective on the darkness through which you are walking. Ask questions about how they have dealt with depression, what helped them keep going through it, and how they were able to pray when God felt distant. Christian friends and pastors can be a wonderful resource, but sometimes you need the aid of a medical professional. While many Christians disagree about the role medicine should play in treating depression, Christians should not feel any guilt or shame about visiting their doctor to see if they have a chemical imbalance that might need to be corrected with medicine. We wouldn’t tell a cancer patient, “just have faith and pray about it.” We would tell them to pray while they are receiving chemotherapy. In the same way, some Christians who are struggling with depression need prayer, counseling, and medical treatment.
There is no shame in struggling.
We live in a world broken by sin. Its effects work their way into our moral, spiritual, mental, and emotional lives. Because of this, many Christians will struggle with depression, not caused by some individual sin in their own lives but because we live in a sinful world. At the same time, God is making all things new. Through Christ, he is redeeming us and transforming us into his image. That process will often be messy and the progress will be slow.
Christians struggling with depression should have no shame. The Spirit uses our weakness and pain to impact other struggling people. We get to join in the beauty of God making all things new. He uses struggling, broken, and hurting people to help other struggling, broken, and hurting people.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—is a free, 24-hour confidential hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress (1-800-273-TALK).