What to do About Depression
Major depression is a disorder that can be treated with the help of medical and psychological professionals. Self-help measures are crucial both to preventing this problem and to support whatever intervention is applied. Gaining full recovery requires the cooperation of the depressed person and sometimes of that person’s family. In what follows, I present briefly a number of these self-help measures and the principles behind them, which can be found in the Bible.
Talk. Talking in a safe environment to someone who truly cares is among the most effective ways to treat depression as well as other mental disorders. The work of remembers and expressing one’s feelings brings organization and relief. Often, even though nothing material has changed and the counselor hasn’t offered direct input, the outlook of people suffering from depression improves after a therapeutic session in which they have talked freely. Discussion of one’s situation and feelings tends to make them look much less threating and much more manageable.
People who can find the energy to write have found doing so to be very helpful. I have heard more than one person say that they survived those years of torment fighting with my disease because I kept a journal where I wrote about the struggles I was going through. These days, many find blogging therapeutic. It allows people to unload their burdens and also provides caring listeners – trusted friends who have been given access.
Praying – talking in confidence with God – also brings healing. To people of faith, prayer is a way to escape discouragement – and the Listener guarantees confidentiality, full attention, and permanent availability. In Psalm 39, David presents the result of talking to the Lord in contrast to withholding one’s thoughts from Him. “When I was silent and still” he said, “My anguish increased” (verse 2). But after he prayed for understanding, he told God, “My hope is in you” (verse 7).
Search for social support. Depressed people tend to remain isolated. That’s why treatment plans typically include activity programs tailored to their needs and strengths. The professional literature contains abundant evidence that, if someone takes people who are depressed out of the house into a social context and helps them become active (within reason!)), they can recover. This is especially true when the activity includes helping someone else directly or indirectly. Such activities not only combat recurring thoughts and feelings of helplessness, but also promote the sense of satisfaction and well-being that comes from helping others. This offers a great practical defense against depression and also fulfills the moral imperative Paul gave, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Confess and Forgive. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Edgar Allen Poe tells a story in which a man plans and carries out the murder of the old man with whom he lives. The assassin acts so carefully that no investigator would ever be able to trace what he has done. When he killed the old man, he carefully hides parts of the corpse under the flooring of his house.
The next day, three police officers come to inspect the premises. Though they search thoroughly, they found no trace of the murder. As the officers chat casually before they depart, the murderer hears a heartbeat that become increasingly loud. Convinced that he’s hearing the heart of the murdered man beating loudly beneath the floor that the policemen can hear it too, the murderer confesses his crime. However the sound he was hearing was actually that of his own heart, which was pounding hard because of his fear.
Some people are depressed because they – deservedly – feel guilty. On the other hand, people also feel depressed because they won’t forgive the offenses of others. Confessing, forgiving, and being forgiven are intimately related. We cannot receive God’s forgiveness when we’re not willing to forgive others. That’s at least in part what the prayer Jesus taught us to pray says, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, KJV). In Psalm 32, David wrote of the importance of forgiveness:
Day and night
Your hand was heavy upon me;
My strength was sapped
As in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you . . .
And you forgave
The guilt of my sin (verse 4, 5).
Think appropriately. Aaron T. Beck, a Yale trained Psychiatrist, founded the cognitive-behavioral approach explained in the in our last post. His clinical experience led him to believe that most people who are depressed think poorly of themselves (I’m no good), the world (everything is working against me), and the future (the situation will never improve). Beck calls this attitude “catastrophic thinking.”
The Bible offers us a better way of thinking – a better outlook, a more positive perspective on ourselves. We are created in God’s image, with authority over creation. And God’s traits are still within us, though marred by sin. Jesus Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice so we could have a new life and eternal salvation. But God’s grace, we have the potential to achieve great things in serving others and for the glory of God.
How should we view the world? Although it is true that the world is evil and rotten, it still contains many good, noble, and admirable things for us to contemplate (Philippians 4:8). Furthermore, we can admit the existence of evil without despair because we know that eventually it will be eradicated.
How should we view the future? We can believe that it offers us a great array of wonderful experiences. The Bible is full of promises that God watches over His children, and it insists on the reality of salvation a powerful “stronghold in time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39)
Keep Up Hope. An American soldier captured by the Vietnamese in an ambush, was tortured in various ways. After the ordeal, his condition was deplorable, but although he could have died at any moment, he managed to stay alive. Then his captors told him that they would free him on a date that they specified. The soldier grew stronger and happier as that day approached. However, on the day when he was to be liberated, his captors told him that they wouldn’t free him after all – that they had purposely deceived him and would never set him free. Within just a few days, the young prisoner died. Hope had brought life to him, and the lack of hope brought death.
In the last chapter of the book of Micah, the prophet describes period of total chaos in the history of Israel: famine, violence, deception, corruption, hatred, abuse, betrayal, family dishonor, and neighborly mistrust. But in the midst of all this adversity, Micah was full of hope. He wrote, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Saviour, my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7)
If you are discouraged, place your hope in the promises of Scripture. Even in times of adversity for all levels of society – times such as those Micah experienced – you can hold on to the assurance that the LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).