Have you ever been depressed? Maybe you have, but you didn’t recognise it as depression. Depression simply refers to ‘low mood’. We’ve all experienced times of at least mild depression at some time in our life, and more likely than not, quite frequently – your football team loses, you fail a test, a friend moves way, you have a difficult day, etc. But this type of mild depression usually passes within a few days or even hours. However, some depression can settle in for weeks, months and even years in some situations.
Depression is somewhat of a complex subject, as it can take on many different forms, and it has a variety of causes, as well as symptoms. Unlike a physical injury or illness, depression is hard to ‘see’, but it is no less painful or difficult to work through. Depression affects people in a wide variety of different ways. Symptoms of depression may include a negative change in thought, in mood or in behaviour. Depression can happen to everyone in varying degrees or levels - from mild (feeling ‘down’) to very serious (being suicidal).
Depression is an age-old problem, although today we are seeing an unprecedented epidemic in depression in our world. It is a universal problem and it is no respecter of persons. It’s everywhere. It’s very possible that either you or someone you know may at some time have to battle with some form of depression.
Depression may be linked with stress (the pace and pressures of life), grief (a normal reaction to loss), disappointment, anger (especially in men), negativity, guilt, fear, adrenaline exhaustion, genetics, as well as biological issues such as brain chemistry (some forms of depression may require anti-depressant medication to help bring about normal chemical balance in a person’s physical body).
Unfortunately, there is also a bit of a stigma associated with depression, along with a lot of ignorance and misunderstandings. Some people think that depression is a sign of weakness. Some people think it is a result of sin (God’s punishment or withdrawal from you) or that depression in itself is a sin. You need to repent of it, snap out of it and get a good attitude. Some people see depression as a failure or loss of control or a lack of faith. Some people think that depression is demonic and simply needs to be rebuked. Obviously, there may be certain cases where this may be the case, but it is unwise to think that all depression is a ‘spiritual attack’. In contrast, Christian psychologist Arch Hart believes that depression can be a healing emotion, if we cooperate with it. It is part of our body’s warning system, calling attention to something that is wrong. It slows us down so that healing can follow. Depression is the cry of the soul that something is missing.God
- What does God have to say about all of this? Thankfully, the Bible has a lot to say about this emotional challenge that everyone usually faces at some stage in their life. Quite a number of people in the Bible struggled with feelings of depressions, such as Job, Moses, David, Jeremiah and Jonah. Elijah also felt like dying during a down time in his life (see 1 King 19:1-4).Freedom from Depression
When you feel depressed, it can seem as if you will be stuck in the dark tunnel forever. There are not always quick and easy answers, but you are not helpless in the face of depression. There are a lot of things you can do to help yourself. You can take responsibility for your depression. You can seek to bring it under control and try to control some of the causes. It may take some time to work through your depression but simply acknowledging what you feel and then beginning to take some small steps in the right direction can be very helpful.
Today we will look at some general principles from the experience of the prophet Elijah that can give us HOPE in the face of depression. Elijah was so depressed that he wanted to die (he was suicidal). God didn’t judge him for his depressed feelings but he did send him some appropriate treatment to help him out.
- Honour your Physical Body. To ‘honour’ means to value, to appreciate and to look after. Notice that in this story, Elijah was physically and emotionally worn out. The angel prepared him some dinner and told him to eat and drink. He allowed him to sleep and rest first (1 Kgs.19:5-9). We mow our lawns, we clean our houses, we scan our computers, we repair our appliances but we often don’t look after our physical bodies (our home) as well as we should. When our physical bodies are run down, it affects our emotions as well as our spiritual well being. Ensuring that we get adequate sleep and rest, eating healthy food, and engaging in regular physical exercise are all good preventatives against depression and are also beneficial when we are feeling down.
- Observe your Thinking. After the angel attended to Elijah’s physical well being, God met with Elijah. In the course of conversation, he asked Elijah the same question two times – “What are you doing here? (1 Kgs.19:9-14)” Why did God ask him this question? He wanted to get Elijah to observe his own thinking patterns. Elijah had forgotten the great works of God. As a result he had concluded that his work was unfruitful and that his life was not worth living. He had lost confidence in the triumph of God’s kingdom and wanted to withdraw from the battle. His thoughts had become very negative and depressed. Our thinking has a powerful affect on our feelings and also our behaviour. No wonder the Bible talks about ‘guarding our heart’ (Prov.4:23), ‘renewing our mind’ (Rom.12:1-2) and ‘taking captive every thought’ (2 Cor.10:5). When we feel low, our thoughts and memories are usually selectively bad. This tends to make our feelings even worse and we enter into a downward spiral of increasing negative feelings. We need to observe our thoughts and seek to get rid of the negative, depressive bias. The downward spiral needs to be reversed by working to change the negative thinking patterns. As thinking becomes more positive, the depression usually starts to lift, and produces more positive thoughts and feelings.
- Provoke yourself to Action. God told Elijah to get up and get to work. He gave him three specific jobs to do (see 1 Kgs.19:15-18). Depression makes us sluggish and takes away our energy. However, inactivity can get in the way of the healing process. The first step out is to involve yourself once more in daily activities. Even easy things can seem hard to do when you are depressed. Pushing yourself to do some things that you dread or feel too tired to do can help lift the depression. Set yourself some simple tasks that you are no longer doing. It won’t be easy but it is important that you re-engage in the activities you have given up. The sense of tiredness that goes with depression can increase the less you do, and the more you withdraw. Becoming involved in daily activities can help to energise you. Discover and pursue your purpose in life. Elijah got depressed when he lost a sense of God’s purpose for his life. He lost perspective and saw no reason to go on.
- Establish Supportive Relationships. It is interesting to note that Elijah had left his servant behind and was now alone (see 1 Kgs.19:3-4). Loneliness and isolation often feed depression. God told Elijah to appoint a successor and a servant or attendant (19:16, 21). God did not want him being alone. God wanted him to be part of a team. He needed companionship. Build supportive relationships. We all need friends and close relationships that provide emotional support to us, especially during tough times. It takes time and effort to build strong healthy friendships. Do this in advance, not just when you’re facing depression or other challenges! Supportive people can include family members, friends, Life Group members, a counsellor, as well as your doctor.
One of the common prisons we can get trapped in is that of depression. It robs us of our joy, saps us of our energy and hinders us from fulfilling our purpose in life. With God’s help, you can be free from depression. Start taking some steps toward your freedom today.Sample Discussion Questions
- Have people share times when they experienced some level of extended ‘low mood’ of any kind. What were the contributing factors? How did they deal with it?
- Discuss some ways we as a church family (including your Life Group) can be a safe and healing place for people experiencing various sorts of depression? In contrast, what are some unhelpful approaches or responses we can avoid?