Are You Depressed?
By Ingrid Lawrenz, LICSW
We can thank Hollywood for the stereotypical picture of a “nervous breakdown.” When we hear someone is depressed we tend to picture that person in bed, disheveled, eyes sunken, crying. There is a pill bottle open and pills scattered. The room is dark and a vodka bottle sits half-empty on the nightstand. No wonder many Christian women have a hard time admitting to anyone the possibility that they may be depressed and need help.
Sharon was 38, with no viable male relationship on the horizon. Her dreams of being a mother faded. Her elderly parents became more and more ill and she had to care for them. Her heartache was intolerable. She was unhappy with who she was and angry with God, but unwilling to admit it. She buried herself in her work, spending 60 hours a week at her job and then spending evenings caring for her parents. Complaints were coming in from her staff that she was putting them under too much pressure. This made her feel ashamed of her lack of Christian witness. She began to see a Christian counselor weekly who told her she was depressed.
This wise Christian helped her understand that God would not call her to be responsible for what was beyond her capability. At the counselor’s advice, Sharon joined a small group of caring believers and also took the time to develop some new interests. Members of the church visited her parents. She discovered she was not alone. After a while, the heavy black cloud seemed to dissipate. The discipling she received lifted her out of her “works” mentality and wrong understanding of God’s love. She soon began to feel free, loved, and forgiven.
Everyone loved Connie. When she entered a room she really lit it up with her smiley demeanor. She was the family clown and the bright spot in the office. Her laugh was infectious and her story-telling mesmerizing. However, this summer was somehow different. She gradually laughed less and she appeared preoccupied. Friends and family were astonished when she checked herself into an outpatient program for depression and counseling for adult children of alcoholics. It was time to deal with the pain that plagued her in nightmares, and with some of the family secrets that gave her chronic digestive problems. She couldn’t keep hiding anymore. She was resistant when she was told that she was clinically depressed. The medical team prescribed several different anti-depressants. After ten days on the new medication, Connie began to feel more like herself again. Therapy in a weekly Christian outpatient group really started to click.
A Chemical Imbalance?
The Bible consistently teaches that a human being is a whole — soul and body, including all the amazing functions and chemistry of the brain. In the same way that a person with diabetes needs insulin, sometimes people with depression develop chemical imbalances that need to be brought back into balance. Psychologists and social workers can do counseling, but medical doctors, usually psychiatrists, introduce medications to speed up the process of regaining chemical balances.
Symptoms of Depression
How do you know when someone is beyond simple depression or melancholy and has developed a physiological condition? Markers include sleeping difficulties, anxiety or panic attacks, profound sadness to the point of pervasive hopelessness, stomach troubles, headaches, loss of energy, eating difficulties, sexual difficulties, chronic irritable anger at self or others, and suicidal thoughts. A person with a passing depressed mood will be blue for a day or two but then bounces back her normal self, especially if she took a vacation, had a prayer time with friends, or a good talk with her pastor.
There are many faces of depression. There is sadness, anger, fatigue, overworking, overspending, overeating, under-eating, uncontrollable crying, icy numbness, blaming, aggression, helplessness, and suicidal thoughts. If these symptoms last longer than two to three weeks, they may be considered medically significant. Often a good talk with a friend, sharing in your small group, and/or prayer support can head off simple depression before it turns into major depression. Many people are genetically prone to depression. It does not mean a lack of faith if one struggles with and needs intervention for depression. God works through all the means of support available to us - Christian prayer support, professional counseling, wise counsel from friends, and, if necessary, a doctor’s evaluation and treatment. And there is hope. So many women can tell the story of how God used different means to pull them up out of the mire of depression.