Okay, so what is depression?
Most of us know what it's like to have a down day, where everything feels harder, life looks grey, it's hard to find any motivation, and you just want to stay in bed and tell the world to go away. So how can we tell when it’s something more?
Some of the symptoms of depression include:
- Low mood
- Loss of motivation
- Loss of pleasure in things you usually enjoy
- Weight gain or loss (without trying!)
- Sleep disturbance
- Increased irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts
If you experience a number of these symptoms over a period of two weeks or more, there's a good chance you’re experiencing some depression. And you wouldn’t be alone; depression is actually one of the most common mental health issues people face. In Britain around 10% of people experience a depressive episode each year 1.
How does God respond when we’re down?
There are a lot of examples of God interacting with people who were downhearted and bruised by life. The one that continually captures me is Elijah. He is one of the greats of the Old Testament but at one point in his ministry he received a death threat from the Queen of Israel and it was just too much. He turned and ran for his life leaving everyone behind.
Here's what scripture says about what happened.
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
-1 Kings 19:3-4 (NIV84)
Clearly Elijah was spent and bruised, he was hurting and had enough. What follows in the story is a unique and intimate account of how God restored hope out of despair and turmoil. I particularly love the way God started reaching out to the prophet. He used the most basic comfort, something simple but so profound. He comforted him through an angel's touch. The angel brought Elijah food and encouraged him to rest. The angel then returned and again reached out to place his hand on Elijah to wake him and provide what he needed for the journey ahead.
Elijah then ran to the mountain of God to tell Him he believed he was on his own, that his faithfulness had not been enough and now he too would die. There is no anger or rebuke from God. Instead God answered his thoughts directly and openly. He provided Elijah with perspective to see the bigger picture and realise that what he had come to believe was far from the truth. He encountered the God who had the situation in hand even though all looked hopeless in the moment.
Finally, God gave Elijah one last gift. It wasn't enough that Elijah should stand in the presence of God on the mountain for a moment. God then provided Elijah community in the form of Elisha who would be with him for the rest of his days.
I am drawn to this narrative because it shows us that God didn't only use spiritual means of restoration. He provided Elijah with food and rest, with comfort in his isolation, with a change of beliefs. More than anything else God provided a helper for the journey who was faithful to him and loved him. For God the whole person is important and he is willing to journey with us to draw out the things that need to change and allow us to see more of him.
Breaking the Cycle
There is a cycle that often happens with depression. As we start to feel down we start to lose motivation - small things become big things. People often keep going to work but stop the optional things like seeing friends because it's just too hard. But that makes us feel more isolated and so the depression becomes more severe. Then the critical thinking kicks in when we can't seem to get on top of things so we feel worse and withdraw more. Then the cycle continues. We call this type of pattern the depressive spiral.
If this feels like where you’re at, here are some things you can do:
- Pick up doing some of the pleasant things you used to enjoy even if you don't like it at first. Psychologists will often set people the task of one positive thing (purely for pleasure) each day for 20-30 minutes. Make sure some of these involve being with other people.
- Exercise three times a week for half an hour. This has been shown to have a real impact on our feelings over time.
- Work out who is in your world that’s safe enough to talk to about what's going on (friend, pastor or a colleague).
- You could also tell a counsellor or doctor. They're trained to understand and be able to help you take steps to get back on your feet. This is a journey we can't do on our own. We all need a little help sometimes.
- Learn more about how depression affects our thinking. There are some great websites on both anxiety and depression that are well worth a look. Here's a couple of Australian ones (I might be biased but I think they’re brilliant!)
Finally, if your depression is getting severe it's so important to see a good psychologist. Start with your doctor who should be able to refer you to someone. Depression is a serious illness and not something to neglect. Things can and do improve so please get started on the journey and don't delay.
Jamie is a Clinical Psychologist and he works at the Hillsong Health Centre in Sydney, Australia. He spoke at Momentum 2013 and you if you’re interested in his seminars you can download his talks for £1 each here:
In his next blog Jamie will be looking at how to find the courage to talk about the difficult things we go through.