Dealing with Depression

May is Mental Health Awareness month and we need to talk about this more than ever. Last week, I posted the first part of how I have suffered from depression and OCD for most of my life. From what I have read and experienced first hand, there are multiple types of depression – some more severe than others. I want to be clear: some types are worse than others and therefore you cannot use the same treatment.

The least severe deals with circumstantial adjustments. For me, I have circled the globe once in several non-sequential trips. I left California and went to Chicago for undergraduate and then to Virginia for law school. I have gone overseas on missions with strangers who became good friends. Meanwhile, some of you might not have traveled more than 50 miles from home. Therefore, you might have been spared the pain of arriving in a new city – not knowing anyone, not knowing the culture, and more or less alone. That’s why churches have to vet thoroughly all applicants – not just whether they are physically able to do, but also emotionally stable to handle the sudden changes.

Another variation is Seasonal Adjustment Depression. This happens more so for regions that have a gray winter. In southern California, we have only two seasons – spring and summer. We have sunshine all the time, even in the winter. But having lived in Chicago where the sky can be gray, the Quad buildings at the University of Chicago are gray, the ground is gray, and the melted snow is a gray slush, it can be very depressing in February.

Rockerfeller Chapel, University of Chicago

Circumstances however change. In a two week crucible of an overseas mission trip, you really make friends and then you go home.

Seasons change. Winter becomes spring and then summer.

The next severe type of depression is tied to selfishness. This is inadvertent. The truth is, we can get wrapped up in our own troubles that we forget other people also have troubles – and might be even worse off than us! There’s a line between sacrificing your needs for others and having a martyr complex. You should never ignore your own needs either – if you are hurting, you’re hurting.

To cure this type of depression, Pastor Greg Laurie has a 10-step program:

  1. Find someone who is worse off than you and go serve them.
  2. Repeat 9 more times.

Generosity and ministry has been proven beneficial for our mental and emotional health.

If I look beyond the circumstances/ seasons, or serve others, some of the general malaise goes away. But what happens if it is more ingrained?

Some people would say: You just need to pray more and read the Bible more.

Maybe? But what happens when the words on the page are just a wall of text? Or you have nothing to say to God because prayer is now rote?

A lot of well-meaning Christians, even some pastors, would then say: “You gotta double down! This is when you really have to pray.”

My response – look at the prophet Elijah and the 19th Century British preacher C.H. Spurgeon. Elijah had a direct line with God and he still got depressed after his biggest triumph. After finding he has a bounty on his head, he fled 100 miles into the desert. Spurgeon was called “The Prince of Preachers” with over 1000+ sermons and preached to a packed crowd each week – and he had debilitating depression. It got so bad for Spurgeon at times that he could not get out of bed. I cannot imagine what it was like for them as they dealt with their own thoughts and emotions.

I mean, how can you tell either Elijah or Spurgeon to “pray more and read the Bible” and you’ll get over your depression?

So if you’re a Christian and dealing with severe depression and no amount of Bible reading or prayer is working, just know you are in good company.

Lastly, during some of the worst times, I read the rest of the story of Elijah. The prophet was in a cave and there was a storm but God’s voice was not heard in the thundering. There was an earthquake, but God did not speak then. Finally when everything subsided, there was a quiet voice. “What are you doing here?”

I try to imagine the tone and inflection. It’s not an angry voice: What are you doing here?!!

It might be more like “What are you doing here?” (empathetic sigh). That’s the voice Elijah paid attention to – the gentle voice.

As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit – a Comforter. Comforters don’t yell either.

Elijah then poured out his complaint – that he is all alone and the last of the prophets – and God listens. When he was done, God gently corrected Elijah – you are not alone. There are 7000 faithful (emphasis added).

It might take some time for that to sink in; that you are not alone. It was not overnight for me either.

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