By Nanette Nelson, LCMHC
Last week I spoke with you about normalizing mental health and illness with those around you. Today I want to talk about one such issue that I’m willing to bet we’ve all experienced – depression. I would like to share that I experienced a significant depression when my first husband left me with two young children. It was understandable, but also debilitating. I realized I was the only parent my children had and got professional help immediately so I could be there for them.
First, I would like to explain the difference between feeling “down,” feeling depressed and being clinically depressed. There are events or situations which make us feel sad quite frequently. Then there are times when we exhibit depressive symptoms which can include feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, lack of interest in normally enjoyable activities, a significant reduction or increase in appetite, too much or too little sleep, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating, irritability and possibly even thoughts of self-harm. To be declared clinically depressed you must exhibit most of these symptoms more often than not. If some of these symptoms are a part of grief, they are considered normal for the first six months. My depression would have been called an “Adjustment Disorder” because there was an understandable cause and also lasted about six months. If you are experiencing some of the depressive symptoms I listed, but are still able to perform your job and care for loved ones, you are considered to have mental health issues, but are not considered “mentally ill.” Regardless, relief from these issues is probably important to you.
There are many ways to seek relief for any of the symptoms I just described. Among the professionals who deal with these issues are those who care for the biological, social, psychological and spiritual aspects of life. We generally understand the first three, however “Spirituality is difficult to define. It is commonly concerned with things such as meaning and purpose in life and with the human being, in relationship to a transcendent being (or God.)” Unfortunately, the depressed person often stops going to church, abandons prayer and in turn feels abandoned by God. I’ve become aware of a podcast called “Why is this happening?” It uses the acronym WITH and a flash insight came to me regarding “being WITH God” at the times when we don’t understand the same.
What is there for us in scripture to help us realize what’s helpful when we need God most. During my research for this talk I came across an article with “18 Bible Verses to help you through Depression.” Here are a few:
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Strength is the first thing to go when depression sets in. Of course God knows how depression saps you of your energy and when you remain in prayer, read scripture and find support in the beloved community (or church) you will feel his presence and strength.
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” You may not find it comforting to hear God tell you that you will experience tough times. The redemptive declaration here is that God knows how to overcome these trials because he has already done this. Faith in his redemptive powers will guide you through the difficult times. Another passage in this vein: Psalm 40: 1-2 “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This is the one you’ll really appreciate; God has better things to come in the future. There is a theory in counseling called Hope Therapy. Staying with God in the beloved community will lead you toward your hoped for future.
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I’m betting this is a favorite for many here. Depression brings with it one of the heaviest loads in life. We feel overwhelmed by all the burdens we must carry at times in life. Getting permission from God to rest in his love can be a powerful anti-depressant.
Psalm 9:9 “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” I spoke earlier of Adjustment Disorders or an event related depression. This passage relates well to times when depressive symptoms can be explained, but the person feeling these symptoms would still need treatment inclusive of care and compassion. Another passage for such an instance would be Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
And finally 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” As a therapist this verse is close to my heart. It also highlights the value of the beloved community, especially when you feel most like isolating.
I would like to quickly go over a bit what I know about depression in general. Yes there is medication for depression, but it is not always necessary if you are able to function in your life, but would like to resolve the negative symptoms that can be painful at times. There are non-medication remedies for depressive symptoms, the first of which is to resist isolation. No one needs to go to parties or big social events, but we were created by God to live in relationship. See friends in small groups where you don’t need to contribute to the conversation, but can benefit from getting outside of the sad stories in your mind. You can also come to church, eat a few goodies our amazing hospitality ladies provide, take comfort from the beloved community and leave when you have managed all you could. Other remedies include enjoying nature, exercise, a healthy diet, mild exercise, read a hopeful book (go to a library or bookstore), watch a funny movie, do one task that you’ve been meaning to do, take a long hot bath, play with your children (furry or human) take a relaxing drive, listen to your favorite music or do something spontaneous. One thing I prescribe to my clients is to do something creative or sing. Studies have shown how the human brain lights up when you sing and 10x more when you sing with others. Isn’t that right Gayla? Singing also uses your lungs in a way that increases oxygenation to your brain which helps alleviate anxiety.
When your symptoms are more tenacious medication is usually recommended. Anti-depressants are a difficult proposition because there are no blood tests to tell you which one would be best, it is a guessing game of sorts. A professional will take a guess on a type of medication and start you on a low dose. You must wait 3-4 weeks and if you don’t notice a difference they will increase the dose. If the medication proves ineffective the process could be repeated with numerous medications and become very frustrating. There is a DNA test done with a cheek swab that can narrow down your choices which is one reason I recommend going to a psychiatric professional rather than your GP. They are also better versed in psychiatric medications whereas your general provider tends to listen to sales reps. I am happy to speak with anyone who has questions.