The Institute explains that clinical depression is a broad term used by mental health professionals that incorporates more specific diagnostic labels; with a person’s lifestyle needing to be significantly affected by some of the following symptoms for the labels to be applied:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities every day
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day
- Insomnia (inability to get to sleep or difficulty staying asleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping more than usual) nearly every day
- Psychomotor agitation (for example, inability to sit still, pacing, pulling at clothes) or retardation (for example, slowed speech and movements, quiet talking) nearly every day
- Fatigue, tiredness, or loss of energy nearly every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day
- Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideas with or without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt
- Feelings of hopelessness
Depressive episodes can last anywhere from two weeks to several years, and with varying degrees of severity. The presence of the symptoms will negatively affect a person’s relationships, work responsibilities, etc. The range of these possible symptoms is extremely broad, with some being physical symptoms and others being mental.
Depression is certainly not a new illness; the Greek physician Hippocrates, who lived from 460 to 377 BC, first described the state of depression as “melancholia.” And, while not explicitly expressed, the Bible is full of references to characters suffering in this way.
David described himself as “bowed down and brought low,” “feeble and utterly crushed” and “groaning in anguish of heart” in Psalm 38. In Jonah 4:3, Jonah was so distraught that he asked God: “Take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live”; and in lamenting his extreme suffering, Job said, “I have no peace, no quietness, I have no rest but only turmoil.”
What is Depression?
Often confusion and frustration can grow out of the chorus of voices who claim to understand depression. Neuroscience and psychology offer many theories; but ultimately, depression is not simply a medical or mental problem; it is often a “being human” problem. While various medical and emotional problems can and do contribute to depression, for many, the illness has significant spiritual components.
For the Christian suffering depression, Biblical counseling can have a huge impact in helping the individual to grasp all that Christ offers us, both now and ultimately, in heaven: His redemptive love shown on the cross, His daily intercession for us, his peace and comfort, and His promise of perfect wholeness and joy with Him forever.
This is by no means an attempt to offer a simplistic solution to the complex issue of depression. Churches and Christian counselors have been blamed (and often rightly so), for advancing the stigma that depression is the result of a lack of faith, and that those who trust God will not suffer from this illness.
This is certainly not the case, and a reputable Biblical counselor will examine all aspects of the person’s condition; once physical problems (such as diabetes, hypothyroid, and other glandular problems that can be linked to depression) have been ruled out by a medical doctor.
As a number of the symptoms related to depression have to do with the way people think, react to adverse circumstances, or relate to others; it’s important to not miss the logical implication that not addressing pessimistic thinking, guilt, personal problems, etc. will actually sustain depression. Biblical counseling can interrupt this cycle and bring healing by addressing the heart of the issue.
4 Stages of Spiritual Depression
Spiritual depression rooted in a spiritual issue is a slippery slope that has four distinct levels, moving emotionally and spiritually downward. While one can move quite quickly through these levels of spiritual depression, the good news is that, together with the right support (and often anti-depressant medication), a person can stop their downward spiral and move out of depression, by bringing God and His Word to bear on their thought patterns. Applying thoughts, beliefs, and actions to Biblical truth will result in changed emotions.
The four stages of spiritual include:
Stage One: Disappointment
Being disappointed – not getting something we want – is not a sin. It can come because of many different things – a marriage partner who does not meet your love languages as hoped; not getting the job promotion; struggling to have a baby at the desired time. Disappointment comes as hopes and dreams are dashed.
How our hearts respond to these disappointments will either see us moving beyond them; or starting the downward trajectory. Recognizing that God has a purpose for every disappointment and that He has never made a mistake in what He allows in our lives will lead us towards greater trust.
Stage Two: Discontentment
When a person is dissatisfied with what the Lord is doing in their life and cannot accept it as part of His sovereign plan, the slide into discontentment begins. Discontentment is a sin and leads to anger and bitterness towards God and others – either through a self-righteousness that says they know better than God; or self-pity that sees themselves as the undeserving victim of unfair circumstances.
The apostle Paul spoke about contentment being something that every believer can learn (Philippians 4:13) and instructed Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Conversely, a discontented attitude brings great loss and will cause someone to spiral down to the next stage if they are not able to get to the point of being able to tangibly recognize and see God as being bigger than our disappointments and having a far greater plan.
Stage Three: Despair
The Greek word for despair means “no way out, no way through.” When a person feels despair, they believe there is no way out of their disappointing circumstances. They become depressed and want to “check out” of life’s responsibilities.
A Biblical counselor will be able to gently help this person see that they are believing a lie of the devil, that our faithful God has indeed provided a way to escape; and that in Him there is a way to bear the greatest disappointment and not break under it. By being encouraged with the very real hope of the gospel, they will be able to replace the lie with the truth and be redirected towards a better place through God’s sovereign guidance.
Stage Four: Destruction
If the person in despair continues to be convinced that the lie is true for them, they will slide down to the destructive mode in the middle of depression. They will hit rock-bottom emotionally and spiritually and could act out in a way that would damage their relationships, employment, finances, or even their own life.
These actions ultimately damage their condition even more. Until they can look upwards and realize that God still loves them and wants to help them through, they may continue to seek destructive ways out of their low place. The journey out of depression is not easy and takes time and applied effort.
Proverbs 12:25 mentions depression directly, saying: “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” This short verse provides both diagnosis and prescription that can help Christians grow beyond spiritual depression. While a heart full of anxiety is the culprit, there are so many good words and promises in the Bible that, once studied, and worked through methodically, can make one’s heart more joyful than ever before.
“Regrets”, Courtesy of Jonathan Rados, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Face in Hands”, Courtesy of Francisco Gonzalez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hiding”, Courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sunbeams Over the Mountains”, Courtesy of Chris Flexen, Unsplash.com, CC0 License