Depression: What is it and how can a spiritual understanding help mitigate this suffering?

Depression is one of the primary emotional struggles that we psychiatrists and therapists see in our patients. Many of us struggle with it on our own as well. Unfortunately after the COVID pandemic surfaced many more people with new diagnoses, and people who were treated for it in the past and in a good place found themselves in a state of depression again. In fact, depression is the most common illness in the United States, affecting almost 15 million adults in a given year – that is more than diagnoses for cancer, AIDS, and diabetes combined. Depression is something to be taken seriously as suicide is a more common cause of death than homicide in young people who are 25-34 years old.

The good news is that it is a treatable illness. And we have to treat it because it impairs the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and functions. First, we want to clarify some frequently asked questions about depression:

Why do people suffer from depression from young to mid adulthood?
1. Stress from major life changes: A big contributor to depression is stress and major life changes such as a loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or a big move away from family and friends.
2. Biological factors: Nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other using ‘neurotransmitters’ – during depression, there seems to be a reduced amount of this communication thus impacting various areas of the brain that oversee normal everyday functions such as sleeping, eating, and even our feelings.
3. Limited resources for support: During depression, people feel as though they do not have anyone to turn to, or they do not want to burden their loved ones with how they are feeling. They may also agree they may need therapy but will think the cost is too prohibitive. However, there are many resources such as ours that can help you.

Why don’t people seek help if depression is so common?:
There are several common reasons as to why people do not seek the help they need:
Fear of facing stigma: We have heard people say “I don’t want people to know that I’m weak, I can figure this out on my own.”
Severity: “How do I know if I even need help? Isn’t this normal? It doesn’t seem so bad.”
Starting is hard (effort, money, time): “I don’t know where or how to start, and I don’t have the means to start.”

Symptoms of Major Depression:
If you have at least 4-5 of these symptoms for at least 2 weeks, then you may have major depression.
1. Feeling sad, very down, or empty
2. Not enjoying things you used to enjoy
3. Feeling guilty or worthless
4. Fatigue, low energy
5. Trouble with concentration, memory, or making decisions
6. Sleeping too much or too little
7. Appetite or weight changes
8. Feeling restless or irritable
9. Thoughts of suicide or death

People with major depression might also have other physical symptoms such as pain or other illnesses that get worse, stomachaches, headaches, or digestive problems.

Depression Treatment Options:
Treating depression is not just about prescribing medication. It can be a host of factors that we need to look into and treat if it is contributing to depression, so we want to take a holistic approach to see what is contributing to this illness.

For example if there is a hormonal imbalance, we have to help that with medication.

If there is poor nutrition, then we have to address that.

If there is a pattern of drug or alcohol abuse, we have to examine that and
reduce that. Sometimes, alcohol in itself is causing depression.

Of course, there are the psychological and emotional causes that we have to address. Is the person feeling a great deal of stress in their life? We have to address that. Is the person experiencing trauma from an event in their life? We have to talk about that and help that person process that.

We have to address all of these areas. This picture above is not all encompassing.

How does the Bible explain this suffering?:

Bio-psycho-social-spiritual explanation for depression:
Humans are made up of multiple aspects all at once: our body, our mind and our heart, our spirit. We are not one-dimensional. We cannot reduce the explanation of emotional struggles to only one aspect or another.

For example there can be an ailment or a weakness in our physical and bodily area. There can be an emotional or relational issue or “ailment” affecting our mind and heart. But we also cannot forget about the spirit.

There are some people who feel as though they do not have a spirit, but we do have an inner spirit that can feel as though it has been crushed, leading to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness.

All three of these aspects – body, mind, spirit – has a role in developing depression. All three areas are affected by depression. These are interrelated.

Depression resulting from a major loss…on a spiritual level.
We mentioned earlier that depression can be caused by a major loss that has occurred in your life. This major loss can mean not only a major loss in your family or friend circle, or a job loss, but also a loss of God’s spirit.

The Bible explains depression comes from…:
1. An absence of God’s spirit – Romans 3
2. Loss of wholeness (shalom) – Ephesians 2
3. Lack of goodness – Genesis 1:10b, Galatians 5

God created man to be with him with no unmet needs. But evil through Satan causes man to stop believing in God. Original Sin entered paradise into man causing spiritual death and all the curses that afflict humankind including depression, disease, and death. This caused a God-sized void and it is Satan’s #1 goal to prevent you from filling this void.

This God-sized void can only be filled by God himself.
Even after Jesus enters your heart and you become a child of God, there still can be a painful slowness in resolving depression symptoms.

Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you cannot be afflicted by depression:

Christians, non-Christians alike can get attacked and affected by this illness. So many of God’s followers felt despondent: Job, King David, Jeremiah all were afflicted and at times felt despondent.

Jesus himself felt broken in spirit and body. He felt deep emotional and spiritual sorrow, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane knowing that on that cross he would be broken and separated from God, and experience the absence of God’s spirit.

However, how did they cope? They knew that they were not alone. That God was always with them and had a plan for them.

Depression oftentimes leads to:
– Hopelessness
– Helplessness
– Worthlessness
You have to remember that Satan and through evil he is trying to keep you separated from God, thus leading to these feelings of feeling hopeless, helpless, and worthless.

It is the spiritual fight we all are in, regardless of whether we know it or not: Satan
tempts the mind to disbelieve God’s promises.
– #1 lie that he uses: God doesn’t love you and he doesn’t care and you’re not worthy of love – so then what do you do? How do we depress clinical depression as a problem?

How we address all aspects of our self:
1. Address biological & psychological needs.
2. Learn, comprehend, believe – who Jesus Christ is, and what He has done. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to church more, praying more, giving more, etc. It means knowing who Jesus is and knowing what He has done for us.

Remember: God loves us unconditionally and that He is with you. As a beloved child of God, you can:
– Witness the melting of hopelessness – Colossians 1:27
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious
riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

– Unshackle from helplessness – Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor
depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the
love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Eradicate all opinions of worthlessness – 2 Timothy 1:7
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Because of Christ, you are no longer broken.
Even if you feel broken, you must remember your identity is God’s beloved. Your identity is not of a depressed person. You happen to be currently undergoing symptoms of depression at this time but you are always a child of God.

My encouragement:
– Treat the physical issues. For example, if you have a lack of appropriate serotonin function, this is treatable.
– If you have cognitive and emotional issues, go to psychotherapy. Why do it on your own?
– Revive & nourish the spirit. If you haven’t already, personally meet God. If you’re not sure if you met Him or not, then let’s be sure – we will help you be sure.
– Remember you cannot do this alone. You need a team for surgery – you’re not going to cut yourself open, you need the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, etc. You also need a team to treat depression.

The Oak Health Foundation can help you with every aspect of self so that you can feel a sense of purpose, joy, and renewal. Contact us now to learn more about faith-based counseling, depression counseling, or subscribe to our
newsletter to stay in touch.

We are licensed psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and psychotherapists that believe in integrating the Gospel message into mental health treatment and counseling, as well as reducing the stigma and prevalence of mental health disorders. Contact us now to learn more about treatments, or just to receive a brief consultation about the need for treatment.

Found this post useful? Please consider donating to Oak Health Foundation, which is a 501(3)c nonprofit dedicated to providing resources regarding holistic mental healthcare and subsidized treatment for those in need.

Renew & Revive Spiritual Group Sign Up

This Renew & Revive (R&R) group is a program established by the team at Fully Health to provide a comprehensive approach to address all our needs – physical, mental, and spiritual. Through attending these complimentary group sessions, you will learn about the good news of Jesus Christ and how God will intervene during our journey toward achieving healing and greatest potential.

All individuals 18+ are welcome to attend! You do not need to be a Fully Health client or patient to attend. This service is free of charge. Please note, these sessions are not a clinical service. You may come and go as you like. We would be happy to have you whenever you may be available to join!

Wednesdays 7:30 – 8:30 pm on Zoom

What to expect from R&R
– To deeply understand, believe, and enjoy the Gospel, and know who I am
– To be able to have any question answered without judgment. For example, “Why am I struggling so much even though I have faith?” and “If I seek psychiatric treatment, does that mean my faith is small?”
– To experience the ability to fight the spiritual battle in life, especially regarding mental health struggles around me
– If Jesus is the Christ who solved my fundamental spiritual problem that led to all the “bad fruits” of life, then He is the answer to any other problem (mental and/or physical) that I may face on this earth.