When his father had a sudden heart attack and died, Jack Lawson was devastated. He withdrew from friends and family, was unable to sleep at night, and just couldn't stop crying. It took him a good six months to resolve the resulting depression, but afterwards he said he felt "better put-together than before."
Depression is something most of us grapple with at some time or another. As Dr. Frederick Flach, professor of psychiatry at Cornell University, explained, depression is a normal reaction to many of life's situations, such as the loss of a loved one, a valued object, or job, or experiencing divorce.
Depression is only destructive if we fail to resolve it. When we work through it, our life, like Jack Lawson's, can be enriched. Until resolved, however, its symptoms can be very painful and include a loss of self-esteem, appetite or libido. It can induce indecisiveness, alcoholism, sleeplessness, irritability, bad temper, tearfulness, dejection, procrastination, apathy, headaches, backaches, chronic fatigue, nausea, digestive upsets, and many other ills.
Its causes can be many and complex. They can be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. There are no simple answers, but once we understand and treat the causes, we can resolve and get on top of our depression.
Physical causes. For several years Joan was plagued by fatigue and depression. A thorough medical examination showed that she had low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). After a short time on a suitable diet she was back to her old, bright self.
Considerable depression is caused by repression of negative feelings such as anger.
Physical exhaustion, burnout, an unbalanced diet, too much refined sugar, lack of exercise, a chemical deficiency in the brain, or hormonal changes can make people vulnerable to depression too. The latter is especially true for women during their menstrual cycle or pregnancy, immediately following the birth of a child, or during menopause.
Emotional causes. Some depression is the result of normal mood swings that most healthy people experience at some time. Other depression can have its roots in painful childhood experiences such as physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or from a feeling of not being fully loved. Lack of purpose without meaningful work and worthwhile goals, not using one's abilities, too few friends and loneliness, unmet needs, and unfulfilled dreams, can all cause or increase depression as well.
Considerable depression is caused by repression of negative feelings such as anger. Dr. Theodore Issac Ruben, eminent psychiatrist and author of The Angry Book, reminds us that when we deny our true feelings and smile when we feel like snarling, the suppressed anger can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, psychosomatic illness, alcoholism, frigidity, impotence, and downright misery.
Anger turned in on ourselves can drive us down into a spiral of depression. No wonder the Bible advises, "Don't sin by nursing your grudge. Don't let the sun go down with you still angry – get over it quickly."1
Depression can be a denial of emotions. This is why the healthy reaction to adverse situations is to accept our feelings and express them creatively – verbally or through writing–whatever they are.
Mental causes. Faulty thinking is another cause of depression. Many counselors believe that feelings follow thoughts. That is, negative feelings follow negative thoughts while positive feelings follow positive thoughts.
While we may not have control over many of life's circumstances, we do have control of our thinking. By disciplining the mind, choosing positive thoughts, and doing something constructive can help change our moods.
This is why the Bible taught centuries ago, "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things."2
Spiritual causes. Man is much more than a physical and emotional being with a need for food, rest, exercise, and loving relationships. He is also a spiritual being with a need for a relationship with God. An impaired relationship with Him or anybody else can cause depression. Unresolved guilt, rejecting God's call to follow him, or resisting his will can also cause miserable depression.
To overcome depression, no matter what its origin, we obviously need to discover and resolve its cause or causes.
Is the cause physical? A thorough medical examination can help answer this question. A balanced diet, proper nutrition and hormone balance, adequate rest, regular exercise are all crucial to overcoming depression, worry and anxiety. In some cases where there is a chemical deficiency in the brain, a doctor may see the need to prescribe anti-depressant drugs.
Is the cause emotional? If so, complete honesty with yourself, a trusted frined, and God about your true feelings is the first and all-important step in overcoming this type of depression.
An impaired relationship with God or anybody else can cause depression.
Questions such as the following can be helpful: Am I hurt or angry? Am I not forgiving someone? Are my needs for love and acceptance being met? Have I learned to recognize and express my feeling creatively? Have I resolved any impaired relationship or feelings of guilt? Am I using my abilities? Do I have a purpose for living with worthwhile work and meaningful goals? Have I accepted full responsibility for my life and my feelings?
Merely talking about problems or feelings is not helpful. We need to see, confess and resolve the feelings our problems cause.
Is the cause mental? Remember, when we feel down, we tend to dwell on self-defeating, negative thoughts. Exchange these for positive affirmations such as, "Thank you, God, that you love and accept me as I am. Because you do, I love and accept me too." Concentrating on positive thoughts–even though you don't feel like it–and doing something worthwhile to help get your thoughts off yourself is also helpful for overcoming depression.
Is the cause spiritual? Dr. Paul Tournier, world-renowned Swiss medical doctor and psychiatrist, states, "All my experience has taught me the limitations of medicine and psychology, because the supreme and universal need of man is to find God."
Augustine (354-430 AD) aptly described man's need for God this way: "You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."
Man only finds total inner peace and wholeness only as he is in harmony with himself, others and God.
If you are depressed, talk to your doctor, a close friend, your pastor, or a competent counselor. Live a balanced life and remember, with help, faith, and persistence you can overcome your depression. Above all, talk to God. He loves you and cares for you. Ask him to direct you to the help you need, to give you the courage to face the cause/s of your depression, and to help you grow through your pain.
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© 2000 ACTS International. Used by permission.
1. Ephesians 4:26, TLB. 2. Philippians 4:8, NIV.
Written and © by Dick Innes