In our morning prayer, Psalm reflections, I recently commented that the Psalmists often express experiences that seem to give voice to the experience of those experiencing depression. This can include sadness leading to tears, deep heartache and longing and insomnia. I took a little bit of time to describe the three types of depression that I have observed. I thought it might be helpful to list them here
As described by Martyn Lloyd Jones in his seminal book by the same name. Depression in effect describes a set of symptoms which can have multiple causes. This might include a period of doubt and struggle, it may also link to us holding on to hurt and bitterness and failing to forgive. Sin can be a root cause of depression as we become overwhelmed with sin. The temptation today is often to ignore this possibility but it remains real and we need to be alert to the destructive work of sin.
Depression with physical/organic causes
Depression is a health issue. We need to be aware of environmental factors and how they can affect someone’s emotional well-being. Depression can also be related to chemical or hormonal imbalances. Ongoing physical pain leading to exhaustion can be another factor.
It is important to say this because if the tendency today is to run away from the concept of spiritual depression, there are still some traditions where depression is seen as solely caused by spiritual issues and therefore a taboo subject. It is assumed that Christians must always be happy and so someone struggling with depression must either be in terrible sin or maybe isn’t a Christian at all.
Depression caused by specific hurt.
Supposing each day I knocked on your door and hit you hard in the face when you answered then walked away. That is going to hurt at the time and over time is going to potentially cause long term damage that will need medical treatment and surgery.
So, we should not be surprised if people who sustain consistent attacks through verbal assaults and bullying, sexual and emotional abuse, gossip, slander and false accusation end up with emotional scars. They have sustained repeated emotional injury from an aggressor. This is important because so often our focus is on treating the patient with depression with Scripture, talk therapy and medication but if you were being hit by someone every day, the first thing we would want to do is to stop them hitting you. So the same should apply with emotional attacks. It is the responsibility of church elders to watch out for when this is happening and to call it out so that bullies and abusers are stopped in their tracks.
I have separated the three causes of depression out but it is also fair to say that life is much more messy and complicated than that. This means that in some cases all three of those factors might be present, the wearying and constant cruel words of an accuser leads to sleepless nights affecting physical health affecting emotions and this rocks someone spiritually, a spiritual problem affects how someone is relating to others which blows up into relational issues and a vicious cycle begins or health factors lead to someone becoming isolated from the body leading to gossip about them but also a decline in their spiritual well-being. Alternative two of the factors may be present.
So, in seeking remedies for depression, I think we need to beware the silver bullet approach and be ready to employ different means. When someone is in the midst of depression medication may be the right starting point. This in effect gets you on a solid level place in order to start engaging with root causes. I sometimes liken this to taking ibuprofen, pain killers don’t cure but they do alleviate symptoms for enough time to either treat the problem or for natural recovery to happen.
If there is a specific cause as in someone hurting the person then that needs to be cut off at source. As I said above, this should be one of the elders’ priorities.
Talking through issues can be a big help with someone who is trained to offer counsel.
Applying the Gospel is essential whatever the cause because it is God’s Word and the good news of Jesus that helps us to face these trials.