Around the world, 1 in 5 young people suffer from mental illness. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that that an estimated number of 350 million people are affected by depression and about 800,000 people die from depression every year.
With numbers like this, odds are that some of these people suffering from depression are in the church. And probably in your church.
So what exactly is depression? “More than just sadness,” according to the American Psychological Association (APA). People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
After going through such difficult times, it is no wonder that people lose confidence in their ability to handle situations in life, let alone make an impact in God’s kingdom.
But take heart – there is always hope in Christ and God will never despise our broken and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17). In fact, it is in our weaknesses that God works best. Here are some handles which will help you find your way back on track in partnership with Him who has called you out of darkness.
DEALING WITH DEPRESSION
1. Acknowledge your feelings
As someone who had gone through depression, you may find yourself falling into this familiar downward spiral of emotions once in a while. This is human, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Read through the Psalms and see how often David went down this path – but each time he chose to look to God.
You need to acknowledge your feelings and not ignore them, thinking that they will go away, because they often don’t. The more you try to hide and sweep these feelings under the carpet, the more they will come back to taunt you, especially on your darkest days where you feel incapable of handling any challenges. It’s better to handle them one at a time as they come.
So how do you acknowledge your feelings? When you acknowledge someone, you give a polite nod or a simple wave, though you may not spend a lot of time talking to them. In the same way, you acknowledge your feelings by acknowledging them. You don’t have to constantly think about them and dwell on them, but you need to know what you are feeling.
You need to acknowledge your feelings and not ignore them, thinking that they will go away, because they often don’t.
Then, bring these feelings to God, whether in cries of agony – or poetry, whatever the language of your scarred soul is – and ask Him what you should do with them. Allow Him to draw you closer to Him as you recognise that at a deeper level, the living for anything or anyone apart from Him is meaningless.
Acknowledge that you are weak but God is strong, and He will give you the strength to sort out these feelings. When you come before God in your weakness, do you not think He will extend His hand and grace to you and raise you up again? God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6) and He will not break a bruised reed nor quench a faintly burning wick (Isaiah 42:3).
2. Accountability to a brother/sister in Christ
“The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement.” Humbling words from a great man: This was the confession of famous evangelist Billy Graham.
We experience deep discouragement in our personal lives, and all the more so in the course of ministry. It is easy to slip into feelings of inadequacy and helplessness when you are not performing as well as you want or envision yourself to be. If you’ve had prior brushes with depression and despair, it will probably hit you harder than most.
At times like these, it’s important to let a brother or a sister in Christ you trust know, so that they can keep you in check and in prayer. If you are aware, let them know your tell-tale signs so they are better able to look out for you.
At times like these, it’s important to let a brother or a sister in Christ you trust know, so that they can keep you in check and in prayer.
Give your brother/sister in Christ full permission to pull you aside when he or she starts to notice your change in behaviour and mood. Allow the person to pray over you and journey with you no matter how much you may not want to be around people – for though we are many, we are one body in Christ (Romans 12:8) and we are called to care for one another.
Let the person know the times you need to be left alone and the times you are able to engage in some sort of conversation. Even if it means having to sleep a whole day so you are able to drag yourself out to meet that person, do it anyway because when two or three are gathered in His name, there He is (Matthew 18:20). When God is present, breakthroughs and miracles happen.
3. Arrange your schedule
I have to emphasise the importance of having a schedule so that you have enough rest. Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not for the weak – it really makes a lot of difference to your mental well-being and daily functioning. Swinging to either end of the spectrum (too much or too little sleep) would not be helpful.
According to research, a lack of sleep causes an individual to be more irritable and angry, and lessens your ability to cope with stress.
As you start to overcome your depression, you may feel excited about having your life go back to the way it was, as soon as possible. While that is wonderful, it is important to first set up some boundaries and not try to run ahead of yourself. God rested on the seventh day and Jesus rested as well (Genesis 2:2-3, Mark 6:31). Keep your Sabbath and get enough rest.
Another important aspect about creating a schedule is to make sure you include things that you enjoy doing in your schedule. When juggling family, friends, work/studies and ministry, many of us find we don’t have enough time to do the things we enjoy.
In the short run, you may be able to hold it together, but in the long run, you may start to lose interest and purpose altogether – one of the tell-tale signs of depression.
It’s all about having a healthy balance of activities. Constantly having something you enjoy doing in your schedule will help keep you happy and maintain your emotional wellbeing.
THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS YOU
Beyond these three handles, I believe that ultimately, whether suffering with depression or not, your service to God has to come out of your relationship with God. Thus, the most important thing to do is to continually seek Him and ask Him to renew your mind daily.
When we start to see things the way God has planned for us to, we will begin to find the strength and see the purpose in our service to Him. Maybe then we can truly understand what it means in Philippians 4:13, when Paul says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” – no matter how broken our lives may be or have been.
In the Bible, godly men of God like David and Elijah struggled with depression. Beyond the Bible, you hear stories of wonderful saints like Charles Spurgeon who have gone through moments of deep despair, but clung on to the promises of God. In your personal life, I’m sure you’ve heard testimonies from your peers, leaders or even pastors who had encounters with depression – and how God saw them through.
Where the light begins, the darkness ends. When you emerge from the tunnel, don’t be satisfied with just standing outside, but keep moving forward, for God is with you and desires for you to live a victorious life. Be bold and courageous (Joshua 1:9), and start forward into the promises He has for you.