Book shops are a dangerous place for me to be (even more dangerous than clothing shops—I think!). Before we moved to England, my family lived in Denmark and one afternoon I went to a book shop. While I was browsing around, the title of a book caught my attention. It was called Depression —Your Name is Woman. I have heard depression described as "a woman's cross." And, actually it is true. In about every study carried out in this country and scores of other countries, the evidence is clear and overwhelming. From adolescence onward women are far more vulnerable to depression than men. What are the factors that make women more vulnerable to depression than men? Recently, this question has generated much research. Unfortunately the answer has not been found.
An inner London survey conducted in 1989 estimated that seven out of 10 women and four out of 10 men will experience at least one clinically significant episode of depression by age 65.
Depression, however, is not a modern phenomenon, nor does depression happen only to bad people or to people who normally are not well adjusted. The frequency of depression in the Bible suggests that it must have been quite common even in Bible times.
One well known example from the Old Testament is that of Job. He was a very rich man, but almost overnight his entire wealth was taken away. Then he received word that his children had been killed, and on top of that he was afflicted with boils from head to toe. "Finally Job broke the silence and cursed the day on which he had been born ... I wish I had died in my mother's womb or died the moment I was born Instead of eating, I mourn, and I can never stop groaning ... I have no peace, no rest" (Job 3:1, 11, 24). Job's response was one of deep depression (dare we say he expresses suicidal thinking?). And there were others: Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-4), Jonah (Jonah 4:3), Jeremiah, also called the weeping prophet (Jer. i 5:10), and Moses (Numb. 11:11-15). You do not even have to go further than the book of the Psalms where there are recorded a wide range of human emotions, emotions that express extreme joy to emotions that express extreme sadness, including depression.
If we quickly look at the symptoms of depression, they can be broadly divided into four categories:
Emotional: A sense of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, loss of sense of pleasure.
Cognitive: Negative thoughts about self, the world in general and about the future; low self-esteem, self-blame for failures.
Motivational: Passive, difficulty in initiating activity, tendency to isolation, lack of concentration, indecisiveness.
Physical: Loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, fatigue, loss of energy.
The more symptoms one has and the more intense they are, the worse the depression is.
Compare those descriptions with what is written in Psalm 102: "I am beaten down like dry grass; I have lost my desire for food. I groan aloud; I am nothing but skin and bones . . I am like a lonely bird on a housetop" (Ps. 102:3-5, 7). A perfect description of depression. Yet, the wonderful thing about the Psalms is the honesty. The Psalmist does not start saying, "I feel so very depressed, but I know I shouldn't." The Psalmist admits how he feels. He is sometimes up and sometimes down but he is always honest.
Sometimes we tend to overlook the fact that Jesus was depressed too. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he said, "The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me." Other translations say that Jesus' "soul was sorrowful even to death" (Mark 14:34). Yes, even Jesus experienced the emotions of depression. He understands how the depressed one feels.
It feels as if the connection with God has been severed when one is depressed. It becomes difficult to pray and to feel God's presence. And when our "friends" remind us that it is not spiritual to be depressed (like Job's "friends" did) we feel more and more separated from God. But this is not biblical. These are cruelties we Christians inflict on one other. Jesus felt that separation from God as He hung on the cross when He cried out "Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?" (Matt. 27:46). Jesus understands the total isolation and helplessness that the depressed one feels. He felt it too.
It is hard to live with one who is depressed, but it is also hard to be the one who is depressed. Both are suffering. It is a burden on any relationship. The depressed person is irritable and this is directed at the partner. The depressed person becomes unwilling to socialize and begins to withdraw, lacks energy, loses a sense of pleasure in things that used to bring pleasure—and that includes interest in sex. The partner of the depressed individual feels anger or hostility because no matter what he/she does, it is never good enough and there is no thanks, recognition, or love in return. The depressed person withdraws more because of guilt. The partner may criticize or become sarcastic and so the vicious cycle is set up. The couple needs help, and it is important that they get help.
Healing of depression requires healing for the whole person—the emotional, the cognitive, the motivational, the physical, and the spiritual. Prayer is important but it is not enough. When Elijah was depressed and the angels came and ministered to him, it is interesting to note that Elijah was not told to pray, to have more faith or to be more spiritual. The angel that ministered to him said, "Wake up and eat." For Elijah, physical healing was the beginning of the healing of his whole person.
An acquaintance works as a psychologist in a hospital. She says that often the first thing she does for a severely depressed person who is admitted to the hospital is to give the patient good nutritious food. Often the depressed have not eaten well and are physically very weak. This physical healing is the beginning of the healing of the whole person.
Likewise healing of a relationship that has ,,een wounded by depression requires involvement of both partners. Both of them. When working with couples, I sometimes find spouses who think only their partners are in need of help. I tell these spouses, "If you are not part of the solution, then you are definitely part of the problem."
It is important that we, as friends and part of the body of Christ, are there to give our support to the depressed person. If Jesus felt the need of support when He prayed in Gethsemane, then our depressed sister or brother certainly does too. It is also important to remember that God does not abandon the one who is depressed, even though it may feel like it. "When depression settles upon the soul, it is no evidence that God has changed. He is the same yesterday, and today and forever. You are sure of the favor of God when you are sensible of the beams of the Sun of Righteousness; but if the clouds sweep over your soul, you must not feel that you are forsaken" (Review and Herald, January 24, 1888). "Do not be afraid_______ I will save you. I have called you by name—you are mine. When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you" (Isa. 43:1, 2).