The problem of depression and the Christian is complex. As with PTSD, we need to educate ourselves before rushing to errant judgement.
Depression can be split into two categories (although they frequently often overlap): there is depression caused by physical/chemical triggers and there is depression as a state of the mind. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s an important distinction.
#1: Physical Causes of Depression.
Depression is categorized as a mental illness along with PTSD, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
Mental processes are impalpable. Because we don’t see our mind working, there is a tendency to forget that a great deal of this intangible process comes from the tangible part of our body called “the brain” and is heavily influenced by our hormones. Our brain is a functioning organ like our heart, and as such is prone to malfunction. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are dysfunctions in the brain and afflict many elderly Christians. Are they no longer right with God because their brain is malfunctioning?
Over four years ago, a very dear friend of mine introduced me to the Weston A Price Foundation. Dr. Price was a dentist in the 1920s that was curious as to why so many of his patients had dental deformities. Fortunately for us, the man asked solid questions and did considerable hands-on research. He found isolated societies from different places in the world—Switzerland, Alaska, Africa, the Outer Hebrides etc.—whose inhabitants did not eat modern foods (i.e. white sugar, white flour, canned goods). Instead, they ate the foods available to them. Organ meats, fermented foods, fresh raw milk from grass-fed cows, fresh seasonal vegetables, fish oil, fat, and grains that were sprouted or fermented. They did not suffer from tuberculosis (the disease of the day), their babies were round and happy, they had broad faces, and—in spite of having no dentists—they often had perfectly straight teeth and little to no dental decay. They possessed a high level of optimism and had generally cheerful dispositions.
As soon as roads were built that connected these societies to the modern world and the displacing foods were brought into those communities, the following generation of children were born with narrower facial structure, manifested dental deformities, contracted tuberculosis, and—here’s the kicker—often suffered from depression.
Without getting overly technical, my understanding is that a narrower facial structure can affect the formation of the brain, which in turn affects the hypothalamus and the lymphatic system, impacting hormone production and immune system function.
In effect, the way our parents ate when we were in the womb, affected our development in utero; the way we ate as babies and developing children affected our facial structure, which in turn impacted our brain development. In essence, one reason depression rates are so much higher today than 50 or 60 years ago may be the result of poor nutrition! Check out the comparative pictures in the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A Price.
As I’ve said in previous posts, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The way the mind and body affect one another is a fascinating study and not at all predictable. The medical community remains baffled by depression, just as they are with PTSD. Insurance coverage for counseling is limited, Doctors are still experimenting with drugs, and people are still tragically committing suicide.
Depression, in the clinical sense, is far more than a “state of mind” or “attitude.” The causal, unrecognized factors could be physical, hormonal, chemical, and/or genetic.
#2: The “Woe-is-Me” mentality.
Get ready to split some hairs.
There are definite physical and chemical causes to depression, but there is also an attitude of depression. Some have trained themselves (often unwittingly) to have a depressed outlook on life.
The clinically depressed often have greater trouble with mindset—this is where physical and attitude can run together—because they are already grappling with the physical issues mentioned earlier. They have to fight harder than the average bear to fix their mind firmly on good things.
This is the critical point: They Must Fight.
Often, they need help like counseling, naturopathy, and/or medication in order to reach that point where they can mentally choose to crush those negative emotions.
For the past 20 years (or more), our society has slipped into this mindset: “I have this problem therefore I can’t help but be this way. It’s my parents’ fault, my hormones’ fault, and my job’s fault—it’s got to be someone else’s fault! Because of all these problems, I can’t do things any differently. Just accept me the way I am because there is no way I can change.”
That is self-destructive, unproductive thinking.
To be abundantly clear: I’m not telling anyone who is depressed to “get over it.” I hate hearing that phrase when it comes to mental illness. What I urge you to do is fight. Fight alongside God, the creator, the One with whom nothing is impossible. Don’t wallow in it, look for a way through it.
Suggested Battle Tactics Against Depression
As I mentioned in the article on PTSD, I am not a doctor. What follows are suggestions and not intended as substitution for professional treatment. If you are so severely depressed you are considering taking your own life, please please please go get professional help immediately.
Tactic #1: Enlist Your Greatest Ally
I alluded to this above. God is the creator of the human body. He knows better than anyone the particular catalysts of your specific depression and He really does care about you. Nobody on earth is a better listener than God. He is a safe harbor, a refuge in your storm.
Pray each and every moment depression washes over you. Reach for Him. Express your grief. Ask for help.
Meditate on His Word. The Psalms are perfect for meditation as the various psalmists often express their feelings of discouragement followed by a recollections of God’s promises and personality. Write down Psalms that eloquently mirror your own sadness or list the loving qualities of God. Memorize them. Post them as the lock screen on your phone, tape them to the bathroom mirror, stick it on the refrigerator door, and write it on a post-it. Keep the reminder of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness before your eyes.
Repeat in your prayers His promises to be with you, comfort you, and uphold you.
Tactic #2: Enlist Your Closest Friends to Pray for You
Many people are unwilling to admit they are struggling with depression for fear of disdain. Seek only those whom you trust completely (1-2 people at most) and ask them to pray for healing and strength. Communicate your desire to kick the depression. Remember, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person has much power as it is working.” (James 5.16).
Tactic #3: Help Your Body Heal
As I stated above, there are very physical causes of depression. Self-care and proper treatment is vital to decreasing the severity of depressive symptoms. Here is a short list:
- Reduce (or eliminate) refined sugar and processed foods.
- Eat whole foods: fresh fruits and vegetables, quality meat, healthy fats (real butter, coconut oil, olive oil, etcetera).
- Increase your activity level: go for a 20 minute walk each day or find some other form of daily exercise.
- Get some sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours each night. If you are having trouble sleeping, try sleeping in total darkness and using an essential oil like lavender (studies like this one have shown it’s effectiveness). This article in the Huffington Post has some additional suggestions for getting better quality sleep.
- Cut back (or cut out) on Social Media as it has been shown to increase depressive symptoms (Read this article for more)
- Increase your Magnesium intake. Studies are on-going, but there is a growing belief that Magnesium has “mood-improving potential” (source) and help in stress management (source).
What about medication? While I am not an advocate of anti-depressants, I recognize there are cases in which well-monitored medication is necessary. If you go the medication route, make sure you have a seasoned doctor who will vigilantly monitor your progress. Sometimes medications can increase the confidence of the depressed just enough for them to commit suicide. If you choose the medication route, proceed with great caution, and make sure there is someone trustworthy to keep a close eye on you.
Tactic #4: Re-Train The Brain
Seeking out a professional, counselor (particularly a Christian one) can help in this retraining of the mind. A good counselor helps identify destructive thought patterns and guides their patient into a healthy way of approaching circumstances. Accountability and support are powerful tools, especially when overcoming poor habits.
The Bible has great advice for fighting that battle against despair and depression:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
– Philippians 4.8, NASB
Write down each thing—true, noble, just, pure, lovely, etc.—and whenever the negative thoughts come down, ask yourself first if what you’re thinking is true and then proceed with the rest of the list. If it violates even one, look for something else to think about.
I also recommend finding a hobby that fully engages your mind. Mine happens to be playing music in a group. Focusing on intonation, sight-reading, listening, and technique engage my attention so completely that I’m able to pull out of my stress for a few hours. It’s a healthy form of relief.
If you’re telling yourself you are worthless (a common thought for the depressed), remember that as a Christian, God gave you worth when you were purchased by the blood of Christ. You are His child. You have great value: you are purchased with the most valuable blood, the hairs of your head are numbered, God keeps your tears in a bottle, the King hears your prayers, your prayers have power… Need I go on? Destroy lies with the ultimate voice of truth.
If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, take heart. There is hope.
Do not succumb to societal pressure to ignore the problem. Get the treatment you need and lean on God for support.