Low energy; tough mornings; dark feelings; low appetite: these are but some of the everyday feelings and symptoms associated with depression. Unfortunately, depression is more common now than ever before in history. Studies have shown that people born after the 1950s are ten times more likely to experience depression than those who came before them. Those between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five have the greatest percentage of depression, although teenagers have the fastest rate of depression growth. Of these numbers, women are said to take up the larger percentage.
Is there any hope for those who suffer from depression? Does God care that his precious creatures suffer in this manner?
Depression ranges in seriousness from mild temporary episodes of sadness to the more severe and persistent form of depression—clinical depression. With clinical depression, feelings like the ones above stated can go on for weeks, months, and sometimes even years.
In order for a correct diagnosis of depression one normally needs to see a medical practitioner. Equally useful is the openness to taking anti-depressant medication should one be diagnosed with severe depression. Such an action is not antithetical to walking by faith as a Christian.
Biblical Hope for the Depressed
In as much as depression has blown up recently, God’s age-old truth, the Bible, has never been mum about it. Reading through the Bible we meet various characters who experienced depression. Countless Psalms, especially the ones written by David, portray detailed feelings of depression. An example is when David wrote that his depression was caused by unconfessed sin (Psalm 38:1-7, Psalm 51:7-8).
In another case, God brought depression upon Nehemiah over the destruction of Jerusalem to get his attention (Nehemiah 1:4, 2:2). Job’s devastating losses brought him great sadness (Job 3:1). He however remained faithful to God through it all, which serves to show us that one can actually remain rooted in God even when depressed (Job 13:15). Elijah was so depressed over the situation with Israel’s leaders that he thought it was better for him to die (1 Kings 19:4).
It is therefore wrong to ever assume that all cases of depression are directly linked to a lack of faith in God.
What Causes Depression?
Depression can come about mainly due to two reasons; life issues and medical or biological factors. The life issues that can cause depression include, but are not limited to anger issues, failure, rejection, family challenges, divorce, abuse, fear, feelings of futility, grief, loss, guilt, shame, loneliness, isolation, negative thinking, destructive beliefs, and general stress. Going through one or several of these issues over long periods of time can bring about chemical imbalances in the brain leading to more severe forms of depression, even clinical depression.
The medical or biological factors that cause depression may include inherited predisposition to depression, thyroid abnormalities, female hormonal fluctuations, serotonin or norepinephrine irregularities, diabetes, vitamin B-12 or iron deficiencies, lack of sunlight or vitamin D, a recent stroke or heart attack, mitral valve prolapse, exposure to black mold, prescription drugs (antihypertensives, oral contraceptives), and recreational drugs (such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine).
Trusting God’s sovereignty through depression
It is helpful to understand that these causes of depression, whether consequential or biological, are not beyond God. Unpalatable as that sometimes might feel, God’s sovereignty means no less. He is in control of everything and therefore nothing we face catches him by surprise. If he weren’t the God who works everything out for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28) and for his glory, maybe the fact of his sovereignty wouldn’t be as great a comfort—but it is! Our darkest days are not meaningless in his hands. Even when our grief is the result of our sin, we can trust that the One who became sin, though he knew no sin, in order that we might become the righteousness of God (Receive Christ) (2 Corinthians 5:21) will soon lift our sorrow.
Our Lord did promise that in this world we will face tribulation. But he also assured that he has overcome the world (John 16:33)! Depression is not a surprising reality for a fallen world. Terrible would be our fate if this world were all there is. God be praised it isn’t. Thinking of the eternal joy that awaits in the life to come makes what we suffer here but a momentary affliction (2 Corinthians 4:16-18), however unending it might now feel.
If you suspect that you could be struggling with depression, speak to a counsellor or seek medical attention as soon as you can. More importantly, remember that God not only cares, but he heals. He heals by becoming our hope. Fix your gaze on him who will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Yearn for that time when there shall be no mourning, nor crying, nor pain (Revelation 21:4).