The range of depression

Depression covers a wide spectrum of experience. It may just be a short-lived gloom but on the other extreme it may be manifested in a deep, prolonged immobility of spirit and body (or a feeling of being pressed down).

Since every person falls short of what God requires of him, everybody is susceptible to depression. Adults, adolescents, and children can be depressed. Christians and non-Christians have been subject to it.

Depression can be a painful emotional experience in which the person feels hopeless and in despair, isolated, preoccupied with the depression, worthless and unable to make even small decisions. The depressed person is overly anxious.

In the light of Scripture

Scripture obviously recognized this form of human experience; even the Psalmist left it on record:

"Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?"

The difference between the Bible and secular treatments to depression is that the Bible offers the solution and escape from depression. For the same Psalmist continued:

"Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God" (Psalms 42:11).

How depression may be described

But to further define depression, and how it may be known for what it is, depressed persons may indulge in prolonged weeping, diminished sexual interest, undereating or overeating, and disturbed sleep patterns.

The mood is particularly black on waking, but this often lightens as the day wears on. The depressed may have murderous feelings towards others and entertain suicidal thoughts.

Children show their depression in behaving listlessly, being unable to do school work properly and showing other physical symptoms, because they do not have the verbal skills with which to articulate their distress.

What causes depression

Several factors may give rise to depression, though it all this it should be borne in mind that the individual is fully responsible in how to deal with the difficulties in life and how to respond to them.

These may be:

1. Chemical imbalance. Sometimes this is a result of an illness, childbirth, menopause, and so on.

2. The after-effect of a prolonged period of emotional or physical stress.

3. The reaction to a major change in life experience: for instance, loss or change of job, bereavement, or divorce.

Depression diagnosed according to our Maker

With the Scripture as our final authority, it can be shown that depression is basically the self-pity and internal rage of the sufferer. Though this may shock many of my readers, we need to remember that man is totally depraved, self-centered, and even after regeneration, the remnant of sin still makes its presence known in the Christian man.

Jonah’s depression was triggered by his stubbornness in opposing God’s will, and his reluctance to see his enemies being blessed.

Micah’s sad lot was caused by evaluating the sinfulness of Israel, in finding no righteous companion who sympathized with him and his cause.

Cain, whose offering was rejected by God, became gloomy, and instead of repenting, murdered his brother, thus sinking further down into the spiral of depression.

Elijah, who proved himself valiant for God and His truth and worship, was blown off his feet by the threat of Jezebel who sought his life. His firm faith in God wavered as he expected God to act according to his expectation at all times. He became depressed because he felt to be alone, fighting a lost battle.

Cain, the first depressed person

The story of Cain illustrates the fearful dynamics of the downward cycle of depression. Cain began badly by presenting a sinful offering before God. Abel gave God the best, while Cain merely brought an offering. When God rejected his offering, Cain complicated the problem by responding wrongly to the rejection. He became angry and depressed: his face “fell.” God warned him of the wrong response. He further warned him that his failure to repent and offer the right kind of sacrifice would continue to complicate the problem and would cause him to fall into deeper sin. God offered hope by saying that he could reverse the spiral and rule over sin by breaking out of the sinful pattern through repentance and a subsequent change of behaviour.

Instead of obeying, Cain nursed his grudge, pitied himself, and became angry.

Sin leads to guilt and depression, sinful handling of sin further complicates matters leading to greater guilt and deeper depression, and so on. God’s direction here is as strong as it is simple: “Do right,” and “there will be a lifting up of your face.”

Various facets of depression

Depression may take several forms.

Firstly, there is reactive depression, when the individual is faced with a sudden bad situation such as a diagnosis of cancer. His natural and carnal reaction is to rebel against it and sink into self-pity, gets resentful or sinks into despair, or can no longer face life.

Secondly, the endogenous depression is one that suddenly overwhelms a person for no apparent reason. Years and years of suppressed resentment have been fed into his nervous system until it can take it no more and it vomits it all out in a black depression.

Thirdly, there is also the manic person who turns his resentment on to himself and sentences himself to hard labour leading to excessive good works. But a failed manic may sentence himself to a black heel and present as a truly depressed person. What he does becomes meaningless. This is because life is meaningless when its sole reference point is oneself.

Is depression a malady?

There are still no indications that depression is a disease or a medical illness as such. Each person is still capable of controlling his reaction to hardships in life and behaving responsibly in spite of bad upbringing.

Depression, for a Christian person, is particularly difficult to endure. In the generalized sense of isolation, it seems as if God has forgotten or deserted him. The sufferer's own faith comes into question: he feels a failure. He may forget, temporarily, that he is in the company of Job, David (of the many depressed psalms), Elijah and others, who went through depressing periods and out of them too.

How depression may be overcome

Despite any genetic or past experiences, depression can be overcome by a full acceptance and practice of the Christian faith. Paul had every reason for depression, for he was "troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair" (2 Corinthians 4:8).

But his buoyant trust in God took him through all his many trials and opposition and he never fell into depression. It is still the same today: those whose lived are committed to God and consecrated to the service of Jesus Christ should have such a different understanding of what life is all about that they can retain that serenity of heart despite their world collapsing about them.

Our escape from depression depends a lot on how solid and unshakeable is our faith. If we really believe that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28), then we have the greatest defense against depression.

Practical help to depressed persons

A few tips may be suggested to serve as practical help to depressed persons.

1. Check whether there are any sinful responses to life’s problems.

2. Develop a plan of attack so as no longer to surrender to the tendencies of the human heart that would surrender to feelings rather than follow the path of Christian responsibility. Go ahead and do your duty no matter how you feel.

3. Seek the help of others who are willing to help you according to God’s standards.

4. Avoid all daydreaming and self-pity sessions.

All in all, it is a matter of repentance and disciplining oneself to the exercise of righteousness, holiness and the service of one’s neighbour. In losing our life we find it.

It must be emphasised, though, that the best treatment for the depressed to to seek the spiritual help that Christian counsellors can (and are competent to) offer. Especially Christian ministers, whose calling is the cure of souls, ought to be fully conversant with the Bible’s assessment of depression and be fully qualified to apply the wisdom shown therein to specific situations.

Cases of depressed persons ought never to be referred to psychiatrists whose philosophy of life is, generally speaking, anti-biblical and even downright pagan.

The way forward

Christ said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He is still ignored in our generation. Those who disobey His gracious invitation will have to pay the expenses: they will have to carry themselves the terrible and unbearable burden of their own making. Only Christ can free from sin, from guilt and from the sense of vanity in life. Man finds a true and lasting purpose in life when he lives for God - and his neighbour.