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Dealing With Depression

Everyone has felt depressed at some point in their life, and clinical depression is one of the most common health conditions in the world. Here is some information along with some thoughts on how to deal with depression as new creation in Christ.

 

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by Greg Brezina

 

You might think since I’ve been a Christian for over 32 years and have understood God’s grace for many years, I would be immune to bouts with depression. But that is not the case.

 

Several years ago, I battled anxiety over a stressful life event which was having a 25-year-old goal within my reach and then not achieving it. For the next several months, I went to bed frustrated and tired and woke up tired and frustrated.

 

During this prolonged stressful life event, the enemy planted tormenting and taunting negative personal pronoun thoughts in my mind like “I did not trust, fast, pray, or serve enough for God to answer my prayer.” Therefore, I struggled with thoughts of being inadequate and feelings of failure even though the source of those thoughts and feelings have long been identified and dealt with in Christ.

 

The world would say that my bouts with anxiety had aspects of clinical depression. The Depression Health Center (DHC) defines clinical depression as having “feelings of sadness lasting for two weeks or longer, often accompanied by a sense of hopelessness, and decreased energy to perform daily tasks.”

 

Labeling Depression

Three main types of depressive disorders are identified by the DHC. These include:

 

- melancholia, which is evidenced by emotional difficulties and physical problems,

 

- bipolar disorder, which has mood swings that soar with elation and then sink into depression, and

 

- dysthymia, which is lived out in a chronic, low-grade anxiety and is a less severe form of depression that begins in childhood and may last for many years in adulthood.

 

Searching for Causes

Without understanding the law of sin (Romans 7:23), finding the cause of depression is like nailing jell-o to a wall. Thus, the DHC gives many “causes” of depression. Two are:

 

- psychological makeup, which includes personality traits that people are born with and social environments in which they are raised. (both of which have a deep-rooted effect on adult attitudes and behaviors), and

 

- reaction to stressful life events (Stress affects the normal activity of the chemical messengers in the brain and how they interact in the central nervous system. An imbalance in these chemical messengers affect mood and can result in emotional disorders. James Vander Zanden, author of Human Development, writes, “Studies show that stress reactions can depress the immune system.” And “virtually every ill from the common cold to diabetes to heart disease and cancer can be influenced by stress.”)

 

Personal Experience

The world would label my bouts with depression as melancholia. They would say that the cause of my depression was a combination of psychological makeup and a reaction to a stressful life event. This label has some validity because emotions are part of my personality and are conditioned by the negative and positive social environment in which I was raised.

 

The source of my negative social environment is rooted in past stressful life events, especially my dad’s death. When I was seven years old, dad was sick, and I asked God to heal him. He died, and I thought, “If only I had prayed better or had been a better boy, God would have healed him.” It was then that I believed the enemy’s lie that I failed God and my dad because I wasn’t good enough to get God to answer my prayer. Therefore, I concluded that I was a failure. Key words in my negative psychological makeup are inadequate, inferior, not good enough, unacceptable, and unlovable.

 

The source of my positive social environment is rooted in my past successful life events, especially playing football. Being a gifted athlete, I excelled in football. Society praised my performance which affirmed my perceived worth as a person. Playing football became the means of my adequacy. I believe that if I had excelled in math or music, they would have become my means to adequacy. Key words in my positive psychological makeup are commitment, control, manage, excel, achieve, accomplish, and win.

 

I cannot live well thinking negatively. So I pursued my positive social environment, became addicted to affirmation, and developed a performance-based attitude. I set goals to achieve goals to prove to God, myself, and others that I was not a failure. However, I could never shake my sin or my negative social environment. All of my non-Christian and 20 years of my Christian life were spent trying hard to appear adequate.

 

Treatments of Depression

Two of the world’s treatments are medication and psychotherapy. These also have some validity because our physical bodies are decaying and do malfunction. Medications are sometimes used to try to treat a chemical imbalance. (Two cautions in taking anti-depressants are: (1) they have unwanted side effects and (2) they may repress the symptoms and conceal the real cause of the chemical imbalance and depression.)

 

Psychotherapy occurs when one person talks to another person about his or her problems. It has many treatments. Some approaches include the psychoanalytic, neo-psychoanalytic, life-span, humanistic, ethnology, sociobiology, cognitive, and behavioral. These approaches have as many variations in treatments as there are personalities.

 

Not listed in the DHC are the Christian counseling methods of treating depression. Several of these Christian approaches include:

 

- Eclectic Counseling which is Bible-oriented and integrates secular psychological concepts that are “consistent” with scripture. Steps on “how to” succeed over certain problems are usually given to help bring about a change in thinking and behavior.

 

- Directive Counseling a Bible-centered approach which scripturally confronts the depressed person out of a Christian concern for the purpose of producing repentance. Scriptural principles are given in “how to” steps to direct behavioral change.

 

- Memory Source Counseling, which is a Christ-centered approach that helps the counselee follow his or her present emotional pain to its source which is a past, stressful life event. Once found, Jesus is asked to reveal the truth about the lies the counselee has believed about the past hurt. Thinking and behavioral changes follow Jesus’ revelation.

 

- Discipleship Counseling, also a Christ-centered approach which focuses on the believer’s life in Christ. Essential to this approach is the Holy Spirit’s revelation in knowing God intimately and understanding how to live out of Christ’s life, one’s identity in Christ, the cross applied rather than implied, how one’s flesh has developed, the law of sin, brokenness, surrender, forgiveness, and resolution. Behavioral change spontaneously occurs as one learns to walk in the Spirit. This approach is also known as The Exchanged Life.

 

The Primary Problem

When treating depression, it is necessary to realize that bouts with depression and having a weakened immune system are certainly problems but not the primary problem. They are only symptoms of the main problem. (Note: a chemical imbalance can be but seldom is the initiating cause of depression.) The Bible calls trying to live life by one’s positive and negative social environment as walking after the flesh.

 

When the Bible refers to “flesh” in this context, it is talking about motives (Matthew 5:28) and deeds (Galatians 5:19). Flesh can also be categorized two ways: socially acceptable (positive) flesh and socially unacceptable (negative) flesh.

 

However, walking after the flesh is not the primary problem either. When Christ died, the believer’s positive and negative flesh were crucified with Him (Galatians 5:24). The primary problem is found in Galatians 5:16, which says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” The main problem is not walking by the Spirit or not abiding in Christ (John 15:5).

 

The Victory

The victory over my recent bout with depression began when the Holy Spirit revealed to me that I was trying to do God’s work my way (i.e. by my talents, creativity, and abilities). I had been walking after my flesh and didn’t even know it. I entered brokenness and grieved that I sinned. Then, the Spirit reminded me of my identity in Christ - that He is my everything (II Peter 1:3-4), my life (Colossians 3:4), my justification (Romans 3:24), my redemption (I Peter 1:18), my salvation (Acts 4:12), my righteousness (II Corinthians 5:21), my acceptance (Romans 15:7), my adequacy (II Corinthians 3:5-6), and my completeness (Colossians 2:9-10).