Understanding Depression and its Spiritual Causes

Understanding depression and its spiritual causes
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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. 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:

What causes depression?

Here are some common causes of depression:

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 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 agree that they 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:

1. 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.

2. Severity: “How do I know if I even need help? Isn’t this normal? It doesn’t seem so bad.”

3. 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?

The 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 results from a 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 and 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 will lead to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. You have to remember that Satan is trying to keep you separated from God which causes these feelings. It is the spiritual fight we all are in, regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not. Satan tempts our mind to disbelieve God’s promises.

The #1 lie he uses is that God does not love us, does not care for us, and we’re not worthy of love. Or that he does not exist and we are all alone and meaningless. So what can we do when we are struck by these feelings of depression?

How can we address both the physical and spiritual aspects of ourselves?

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, or giving more. It means knowing who Jesus is and knowing what He has done for us.

Remember that God loves us unconditionally and that He is with you. The Bible shows us that we are beloved children of God and that we can do the following:

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.

Our 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.

Enjoyed our blogpost? Subscribe to our newsletter for more resources on mental health and integrating the Gospel message in your healing journey.

If you found our resources 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.

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