Depression and the Christian (Article 2)

depression 2

Depression and the Christian (Article 2)

Re-posted on For the Love of His Truth by Grant Swart

I have copied this same introduction paragraph from Article 1 on this blog. If you have already read this introduction, please page down to read Article 2 below, which is one of the best I have seen on this subject.

Depression is certainly not something which should be taken lightly, true depression is absolutely devastating and debilitating. It can snuff out all sense of worth and quality of life like a candle in a gale force wind. Depression is not limited to any specific group or type of person, age group or gender. Depression can “attack” all people just as easily as the common cold can. I speak from personal experience, as there have been times in my life when depression has overwhelmed me. I praise our merciful and gracious Lord for having provided me with the means and people who helped me to overcome this terrible condition.

I have encountered so many people who suffer from all manner and degree of depression. Almost all of them suffer with this terrible condition and bear the burden unnecessarily, either due to not recognizing depression, not knowing how to deal with it and where to seek help, or because either their family and friends, and possibly even their church, do not know how to deal with the problem. Often they are denial of the condition, and sometimes they do not even acknowledge that depression is a condition which the sufferer cannot remedy or do anything about by themselves.

Recently, I have encountered a few more depression sufferers, and it has been laid on my heart that I should post these two great articles on our blog, which can be used as referrals by those who need some assistance with the devastating effect of depression, either on themselves or on another beloved person.

Please click here http://fortheloveofhistruth.com/2013/05/20/depression-and-the-christian-article-1/to read the first article on Depression and the Christian elsewhere on this blog.

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It Can’t Be Depression…I’m a Christian

But it can, and you need to know how to recognize it and what to do about it.

It was 11:00 a.m. on a weekday morning and the pastor was having difficulty finding the energy to get out of bed. He wasn’t feeling very “pastoral,” and the guilt was overwhelming. He had phone calls to make, people to visit, sermons to work on, and family obligations were mounting. But all he really wanted to do was get in his car, drive to anywhere but here and forget about everything.

Thirty minutes later he finally mustered the energy to get up and go into the bathroom. On the way, his wife met him. She had a look in her eyes he had never seen before. With a soft voice, but filled with tension, she looked him and said, “For the last few months, you have looked like a walking dead man. I’m worried about you and I don’t know what to do.” That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He knew something was very wrong, and he had to get help.

That was many years ago. The pastor did get help, and today his depression is under control. I know, because I was that pastor.

I’m still a pastor, but now I’m also a professional counselor and therapist, and my years of professional experience have shown me that depression is far from unique among Christians. Many pastors and parishioners feel that no matter how much they get involved and how much time they sacrifice, they just can’t shed the gloominess that seems to follow them everywhere. So they work harder and give more with the hope that this will make the gloom go away. They try Bible study, but they can’t seem to focus. They try prayer, but they don’t know what to say.

Even worse, they don’t feel like being around people anymore, whether at church or at home. They’re not as patient as they used to be. They get frustrated and angry more easily. Little things that never used to bother them now do. And guilt sets in; they get angry at themselves, try to set new schedules and goals to make themselves do what they know they should, only to be disappointed at their seemingly endless lack of “character” to follow through. Their tempers get shorter and shorter, or they escape to the isolation of their beds, not having the energy to even start the day.

This scenario is a textbook case of clinical depression. Oh no — surely not. Christians, of all people, born again with a new life in Christ, shouldn’t get depressed, should they?

depression 3

Should Christians get depressed?

As a pastor and professional counselor, this is one of the questions I am asked most often. Christians feel guilty about being depressed. They feel they should “know better.” This leads to denial, which only makes matters worse. Well-meaning friends, and even pastors, who don’t understand what is going on, encourage them to “snap out of it,” and offer advice on “getting their Christian act back together.”

But depression isn’t something a person can “snap out of.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s several groundbreaking studies brought significant insight into the biology behind depression. In laymen’s terms, these studies showed that some people’s brains simply do not have the capacity to recover from the biological effects of stress and crisis (Kramer, p. 131). This in turn literally shrinks a part of the brain that controls feelings.

The cause of depression is rooted in brain chemistry. The chemicals necessary to maintain this particular area of the brain are not sufficient. As a result, one’s mood is affected, and depression eventually can set in. Genetics has a strong impact on a person’s tendency to become depressed. It isn’t a matter of being Christian or not Christian, converted or not converted or saved or not saved. As Dr. Peter Kramer states in his book,Against Depression, when talking about a study focused on twins:

“Even bleak environments elicit depression only in the vulnerable. That a shared environment rarely shows up in the chain of what causes depression pushes a good deal of what we call environment into the background” (ibid., 135).

We all accept the fact that our bodies wear out and run down and are susceptible to disease. We can even accept the fact that our brains can be ravaged by diseases such as Alzheimer’s. But some Christians will not accept the fact that clinical depression also has specific biological causes. They’d rather categorize depression as a “bad attitude” or “lack of faith.”

depression 3

What should you do?

If you suffer from depression, there are some things you can do.

First, find a good professional who can help you, someone who is licensed by the state where you live. They will have credentials like LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, or a Psy.D. (Psychological Doctorate). When you contact them, ask if they have a specialty. If they don’t, ask if they will work with someone who is challenged with depression. If they answer yes, ask whether they refer their clients for medication evaluations, or use counseling only. If you happen to have a history of trauma or abuse (many do, so don’t feel alone), make sure you ask whether the therapist is trained in such areas. It’s important for you that they are.

Finding a counselor may feel like an overwhelming task, but it’s extremely important. Admitting that you can’t carry this load on your own is a huge step toward feeling better.

If you want a Christian counselor, you can check websites such as “The American Association of Christian Counselors” AACC). They have a search option that will help you find a counselor in your area. Again, make sure they are state licensed, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You do have the right to find a counselor you’re comfortable with, but realize you will have to eventually make a decision; it may never feel “perfect.”

When you finally see the counselor, be honest. They are there to help, not condemn. The more you tell them, the more they can help. Sometimes, when you talk with someone who has an objective perspective, it can make the gloom begin to lift.

Some come to me and say, “I’ve tried talking with my family, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.” Their attempts at trying to talk with their family, especially a husband or wife, have actually added to their gloominess or depression. This makes them feel even worse. What they don’t realize is that depression affects not just the victim, but also everyone close to them. People who try to help can end up taking the inevitable rejection personally and become upset. It’s not their fault; they simply don’t understand the dynamics of what’s going on. But their reactions can actually make your depression worse. That’s why it’s so important you get a professional, objective perspective.

But what if you see a counselor for several sessions and the cloud doesn’t seem to be lifting?

Clinical depression defined

The definition of clinical depression or a major depressive episode as recognized by most clinicians is as follows:

“The essential feature of a Major Depressive Episode is a period of at least 2 weeks during which there is either depressed mood or the loss of interest or pleasure in nearly all activities” APA, DSM-IV-TR, pg. 349, 2005).

To further clarify this condition, one must experience at least five or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks to meet the criteria for a Major Depressive Episode. They are:

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty), or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful). Note: In children and adolescents, can be irritable mood.
  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by either subjective account or observation made by others).
  3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5 percent of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day. Note: In children, consider failure to make expected weight gains.
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia (can’t get out of bed) nearly every day.
  5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
  8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others).
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide (ibid., 356).

Note: Many clinicians feel that if one has only two or three of these characteristics for an extended period of time, they are still at risk for becoming seriously depressed and should seek help.

To medicate or not medicate…
that is the question

When I went through my serious depression, I believed that working harder, praying more, and serving more would depression 3make me feel better. But that simply isn’t true. After weeks of therapy, my therapist told me I was a good candidate for anti-depressant medication. At first I felt like a total failure. Me…a Christian pastor…needed…happy pills!

So my therapist wisely explained to me in understandable terms what was going on biologically in my brain, and how the medications would help. It had nothing to do with demons, not being good enough, or not being converted. I was able to understand that I was one of those people who had a vulnerability to depression. In my case, my therapist had realized that anti-depressant medication was not the first resort. But as he began to understand my situation, he realized medication could help.

When I started thinking about it, I realized I had probably been depressed several times in my life; I just didn’t know what it was. But this time was worse than anything I had ever experienced. I couldn’t get out of bed and I had constant shortness of breath. I was yawning and sighing all the time. I felt a tremendous pressure in my chest and experienced chest pains. My eyes felt like they were going to fall out of the back of my head. I didn’t want to be around anybody, and I had developed a temper, especially with my children. It felt like something had wrenched my soul from my body. It was horrible! So, I decided to take the medication, and what a difference it has made.

You have to be aware of something regarding these medications. People are different, and our body chemistries differ greatly. So, be patient! These medications take several weeks to show results, and they may have side effects. Those can eventually go away; they did for me. But if they don’t, there are other medications you can try. The key is to find one that works for you and realize it may not be the first one you try; so hang in there!

Antidepressant medications are not happy pills. They certainly were not for me. But they did lift the cloud so I could begin to talk about how I was thinking and feeling. Before taking the medication, talking about my thoughts or feelings would only add to my depression. The medications changed that. I still had to talk, and I stayed in counseling for more than a year. I learned that I had been taught some pretty unhealthy ways to think about people and situations. But, thanks to a great counselor, a loving and supportive family, anti-depressant medication, and most importantly, a loving and forgiving God, the cloud finally lifted.

depression 3

What about personal spirituality?

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus understands our dark feelings, our doubt, our discouragement, and yes, even our depression; and his desire is to help us. Sometimes, the help we need might include professional counseling and antidepressant medication. After all, God created the minds that created these medications, and it is not a sin to take them if you truly need them.

If you are depressed, there is help for you. It is okay to admit it, and it is okay to get help. Life will still have its ups and downs, but there are options for you if the “downs” last for a long, long time.

If those around us are telling us that something is wrong with us and they don’t know what to do for us, we need to listen with a humble heart.

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Mark Mounts has a Masters in Professional Counseling from Liberty University and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Houston area. Mark did his pre-graduate internship at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and focused in the area of Early Childhood Intervention. Mark now has a part-time counseling practice at the Houston Center for Christian Counseling where he counsels children, teens, families, and individual adults. He is also a full-time pastor for Community Christian Fellowship (a congregation of Grace Communion International). Mark has been married to his wife Debra for 25 years and they have two teenagers, ages 14 and 15.

References:

• Peter D. Kramer, Against Depression. London: Viking Penguin, 2005.

• Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). American Psychiatric Association, 2005.

(Re-posted from Grace Communion International)

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3 thoughts on “Depression and the Christian (Article 2)

  1. Pingback: Depression and the Christian (Article 1) | For the Love of His Truth

  2. This is a huge topic and one close to my own heart. However, I would just like to share something I think sheds important light on SOME cases of depression. Bear with me…this is a long post, but hopefully will be of help to someone.

    Those of us with neurological differences such as Asperger’s Syndrome (a type of high functioning autism), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) and Tourette’s Syndrome (tic disorder) have high rates of depression, and increased vulnerability to chronic pain/fatigue syndromes and substance abuse/dependence. Many of us have spent our lives undiagnosed. The constant pressure to live up to the “normal” model of a human being (whilst realising that we weren’t) creates enormous psychological and neurological strain.

    People in these neurological categories often experience sensory overload due to difficulties in processing incoming stimuli (most common is auditory processing difficulties)…lights, sounds, scratchy clothes are all competing for our attention! We also have executive functioning difficulties (planning and organising), and different learning profiles. This means an average day at school or the office can lead to our nervous systems being completely overloaded. In response, some (usually ADHD’ers) will become more ‘wired’ and active whilst others (usually Aspies) will shut down and become uncommunicative. So one group gets told to calm down (when they can’t!), whilst the other gets criticised (often by their spouse at the end of the day!) for not being open and communicative….arghhh!!

    Imagine this going undiagnosed or treated for much of your childhood and early adult life…thinking that if you could only try harder you would be able to ‘get it right’. Is it any wonder that such people then go on to have psychological problems and seek to regulate their systems in sometimes unhealthy ways? Two years ago my son (now 9) was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD and Tourette’s Syndrome!. Once I understood what the world was like for him I could make some really positive adjustments (yes, medication was a helpful support during this time). His high anxiety, increasing aggression and obsessive behaviours subsided completely and he is happy at school, with lovely friends. He is bright but also has learning difficulties still…the difference is that now he understands HIS differences (and he loves the Lord, which of course makes a big difference too)!

    Soon after, I was diagnosed with ADHD (after 10 years with a label of Bipolar Disorder, Type II). The label had never quite fit because although I had very difficult times, I could never have said I had black depression or lost touch with reality. (I certainly had intense shame and regret for the many awful things my hyperactivity, impulsivity and excessive alcohol consumption resulted in). What I learned in my research on ADHD, psychosomatic illness and from personal experience with a severe chronic pain /fatigue syndrome was this: when the body becomes overloaded at a neurological level, it eventually has to place itself in a ‘shut down’ mode. For some a nighttime sleep or weekend away is enough to recover. For others (like me recently), lying staring at a wall for a month (or more!) is the only solution. I learned that what seemed like depression (certainly to others) was just total shutdown. In the past, in stressful times I swung between the ‘hyperactive overload then outward meltdown’ and the ‘shutdown’ responses. This is one of the reasons ADHD is so often misdiagnosed as Bipolar Disorder Type II (it can certainly look like the cycles of mild manic depression). This time I was completely debilitated…shutdown mode!

    At times during my illness, it would literally take hours to be able to even move my arm an inch. At times, I certainly wanted it to end because I was in so much pain (my whole body felt like it was on fire), but then if my kids came in to visit me in bed I felt a natural joy to see them. Surely I was not depressed, just in melt down mode? I sought answers further afield as the usual explanations didn’t fit. Eventually, diagnosing and treating the ADHD with medication and learning to not get overloaded in the first place (or to rest extra when I could feel the overload coming on) made a massive difference to my psychological state… even my ever present ‘chest-crushing’ anxiety was gone! The Lord also helped me to truly understand what it meant to be forgiven…for everything in the past, now and in the future. Wow, what a difference that has made. I still have pain and fatigue, and a more limited life than I would like, but I try to use it as a way of keeping me in the ‘slow lane’ after a lifetime in the fast lane.

    I meet many people who seem to have similar situations…undiagnosed Asperger’s or ADHD which contribute to ongoing emotional/psychological issues (my own extended family included!). Diagnosis, understanding your limitations, and the right medication can really bring genuine healing if this relates to you…these are not made up disorders! Whilst there are often spiritual things that we need to work through as well (as was the case with me), I believe that an accurate diagnosis, understanding gained and the right medication as support us in the process are all gifts from our loving, compassionate Lord.

    And make no mistake…whatever your ‘label’, you have gifts and talents the Lord has given you. Don’t be afraid to investigate to see if there is something else going on under your (or your family member/friend’s) depression if you haven’t been successful so far. You never know what you will discover…people who don’t fit ‘the box’ have lots to offer!

    If you want to know more about Asperger’s Syndrome try Tony Attwood at http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/index.php/about-aspergers/what-is-aspergers.

    For ADHD try Dr Edward Hallowell, author of Driven To Distraction talking about adult ADHD:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtU7wGn5PAE or his books ‘Driven to Distraction’ and ‘Delivered from Distraction’.

    Avoid mainstream sites that provide ‘tick-a-box’ descriptions that are next to useless!! If you want more information, I am happy to help.

    In the meantime, may the Lord bless you and keep you in his safe embrace, and may you experience his peace in your life. I hope this has been worth the long-winded post!!

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  3. Thank you for these posts. This subject is addressed and handled very well here. I have dealt with this and much more throughout my life. It has been a very difficult road. I have suffered much because the Church has not understood or been educated in this. God has been good, though, and I now experience some relief and I am able to manage my condition…it is ever present and requires my constant attention. I must trust God that He is working all for my good.

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