When I was eleven years old, two years after my father died, I went through a short stage of depression. I didn't know it at the time but I remember feeling empty. Nothing sufficed anymore or brought joy like it once had. I remember my good friends inviting me to their houses, and the feeling of not wanting to go. If I did go I would come home and just cry in my bed. My mother would comfort me as I said, "I didn't have any fun."
It was this dark abyss of emptiness taking over my life which led me to stay in my room and isolate from others. Luckily school started up and I got back into a normal routine. They lack of motivation faded away and became just a short time period in my life.
Looking back I can see how what I was experiencing was depression. By no means is this to the extent of what most people with depression experience. Its just glimpse of what it might be like to live with this mental health condition.
Today our focus on depression is to not only help educate and raise awareness but also to help those struggling find ways in which they can still find God in the midst of their struggles. Having depression or any other mental illness does not mean your faith is weak. On the contrary it means you are incredibly strong.
What is Depression?
Depression based on the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) is a mood disorder characterized by experiencing a variety of the symptoms below.
- Depressed mood most of the day, every day
- Marked diminished interest in activities/ hobbies
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Slowing down of thought or reduction in movement
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or overly indecisive
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideations
According to the World Health Organization over 300 million people are impacted with depression. 16 million (7%) of Americans experienced a depressive episode each year. Depression is a common illness affecting a large amount of people, however much like other mental health issues we do not talk about it. Spring time in particular can be difficult for those with depression as others are excited to go outside while they may not experience the same feelings.
This short one minute video by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) describes what depression is.
Depression can occur spontaneously or be triggered by an event or life crisis. People also believe other factors contribute to depression such as genetics, brain changes, trauma, etc.
I think its important to learn how depression works in the brain. If you are interested in this too please go to this youtube video "Depression and its Treatment" produced by Nature Video.
If you are experiencing depression or other mental health symptoms and are not currently being treated please call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-6264 between 10am-6pm.
Faith and Depression
First let's start by saying Christians can have depression and still have a strong faith. However the lack of understanding by the faith community can cause further pain in those suffering from the illness. Depression usually does not just go away. Simple statements such as, "Just have faith", "Believe more", and "Pray harder" are not helpful for those with depression or anyone for that matter.
Life is seldom that easy and statements like this bring guilt to those individuals who sometimes have little control on what they are experiencing. Stephen Altrogge writes about this in his article "How to Fight for Faith in the Dark". Another article titled "Why Christian Love Matters in Depression" by Kathryn Butler discusses the misconceptions of some Christian communities and how the love of others in a faith community is powerful.
Below a blogger named Jo from Trauma Talk discusses how to still have a strong faith even if you are dealing with a mental health issue.
Therese Borchard writes a great article "How Faith Helps Depression" giving specific ways in how faith contributes to positive growth and outcomes for those facing depression. She identifies these five areas.
1. Faith Provides Hope - Hope is always with us when we hold to a belief in something greater than ourselves. Faith gives us hope that there is more than what we know and experience here.
2. Faith Changes Your Brain - Therese writes about a study completed showing how spiritual practices related to religion/ faith help contribute to changing brain patterns providing protective benefits against depression. Please check out our monthly spiritual practice blogs to learn more about spiritual formation processes.
3. Faith Assigns Meaning to Suffering - There is meaning in our suffering and faith reminds us of this. We can look to Jesus life and death for hope in our suffering.
4. Faith Provides a Support System - Many churches provide a great social network for support. Support networks are crucial for those experiencing any mental health issues. However we have to be open and vulnerable to sharing our concerns with people in those communities. For those of us in faith communities we really need to question the culture we have created to determine if it really is one of trust and openness for others to share deeply about their inner struggles.
5. Faith Provides Hero's and Inspiration - Faith traditions provide a place where sharing takes place. This sharing allows others to come to know the struggles they have went through. Many times this can give us people to look up to and model our lives after. These may be from the Bible or those who we see as mentors.
Faith is a powerful tool that does not heal or take away depression but can help individuals manage it. This is not a replacement for treatment but works with the therapy, medication, etc. you may already be receiving. Faith can be a way for people to find strength through their struggles.
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This week self-reflect on your own thoughts and possible judgments about mental health or other subjects.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.