Dealing with Depression: A Christian Approach

Posted: May 19, 2014 in Anxiety & Depression, Christian Living, Doubt

528483-Depression-1364630455-842-640x480Depression is a crushing problem for many, plunging them into a despair and hurt few can understand. Robert Burton spoke of depression rightly when he said: “They are in great pain and horror of mind, distraction of soul, restlessness, full of continual fears, cares, torment, anxieties, they can neither drink, eat, nor sleep…”[1] Abraham Lincoln spoke of his depression similarly. “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better, it appears to me.”[2] So how in the world are you to help a person in this condition? What if you find yourself dealing with depression? What course of action should you take? Is there a Christian perspective on the topic?

Understanding The Nature of Man

To understand depression, we must first understand “what is man?” Historically, Christians have been dualists. This basically means that we believe human beings are composed of two parts, body and soul. For an in-depth argument of why this view makes the best sense of reality, check out this link. For now, let’s just describe this basic distinction between soul and body. Your soul is the real you; however, it is an immaterial you. You body and brain are not the real you, but the real you has a body and brain. To put it simply, your soul is a collection of faculties, including your senses, emotions, conscience, will, mind, and spirit. Many of these faculties are what make us distinctly human and image bearers of God. However, in order to function in this world, your soul makes use of your body, including your brain.

To better explain this dualistic interaction between soul and brain, perhaps an analogy will help. Imagine you are welded shut inside a car. There was no way of escape from the car, and the only means of moving, surviving, etc. was to utilize the car. So in this scenario, you make use of the car to function in the world around you.[3] In the same way, the soul uses the body, including the brain, to function in the world. When the brain and body are properly functioning, the soul can use it efficiently. When the brain malfunctions, the soul has a more difficult, if not impossible, time functioning. As we will see later, both brain and soul can have an effect on the other.

So here is the good news about the Christian understanding of depression. Your identity is not in your depression, for you are not your brain – you use your brain. So if you do truly deal with depression, know that while you may feel a roller coaster of emotions, they are not the essence of who you are. In many cases, the real you, your soul, by God’s grace and the healing power of the Gospel, can overcome much of depression and its effect. However, medication may be necessary. Also, keep in mind that your brain cannot make you to sin.

How to Deal w/ Depression

Edward Welch, in his wonderful book Blame it on the Brain, gives four basic steps for dealing with depression, and I agree wholeheartedly with his approach.

  1. First, Welch suggests we begin treatment of depression by understanding the experience of depression the person has. What do they feel like? What do they think? Often times our own experiences can cloud our understanding of the depression the person is dealing with. Each experience is different and we need to understand the specific one we are dealing with. However, there are several classic symptoms that one would expect to see in any depressed individual. Check out this website for a list.
  2. Next, Welch insists we must distinguish between physical and spiritual symptoms. He says, “If we confuse physical for spiritual symptoms, we are liable to hold people morally responsible for physical symptoms. If we confuse spiritual for physical symptoms, we are liable to excuse sin and have little hope for spiritual growth when someone has a psychiatric diagnosis.”[3] Physical symptoms include things like significant weight changes, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, feeling restless, feeling sad, and problems concentrating. Spiritual symptoms include things such as shame, guilt, fear, hopelessness, unbelief, and anger.[4]
  3. Third, Welch suggests that we deal with the heart issues first, if present. For example, perhaps someone is dealing with guilt. This person may be involved in things for which they should feel guilty. Perhaps they don’t truly believe what God has to say about forgiveness. Or maybe the person has a prideful heart and is using guilt as a way to atone for their sins. Whatever the case may be, where there is a heart issue, there is a biblical solution.
  4. Finally, Welch says that if physical symptoms are excessive and causing much pain, medical treatment (e.g. medication or other form of therapy) may be necessary to alleviate some of the painful symptoms being experienced. But this should only be done (if possible) after the heart issues have been explored. Remember, medication is treating symptoms while Gospel counseling is treating the heart. Both are helpful and both can play a role in treatment of depression.

 

Jordan

 

[1] Quoted in Edward Welch, “Blame it on the Brain,” pg. 115

[2] Quoted in Welch, “Blame it on the Brain,” pg. 116-117

[3] Ibid., Pg. 119

[4] Ibid., Pg. 120

Comments
  1. Just, be careful with this kind of stuff. See a doctor, see a therapist, take your meds. Don’t try to pray your way out of depression, maybe it’ll help, but that alone isn’t enough to help. I myself am an atheist, but I have no intention of bashing any of this. All in all this is an insightful post, mostly containing good advice. I just want to stress the point that anxiety and depression are always “physical,” even when the problems are “of the heart.” Therapy and medication are important steps in the recovery process, even if your symptoms don’t seem overtly physical in nature. Don’t let yourself dig the hole that is depression any deeper than in needs to be, and don’t forget to rely on people, not just God.

    • Jordan Tong says:

      Noise Pollution,

      Thanks for your comments. I do agree with you that one should go see their doctor when they are facing mental illness. Also, you are right when you say that there is a physical component to all anxiety and depression. As someone who has used medicine for this purpose, I can attest to its helpfulness. However, anxiety and depression are usually rooted in some “heart issue” and medication just helps to relieve the symptoms. So I am in favor of medication to provide symptom relief, but only if the heart issues are being addressed as well.

      Jordan

      • Of course. Seeing a therapist is very important in the recovery process, but as a longtime sufferer of depression and anxiety, I personally know that it can be extremely intimidating to
        A: find a therapist
        B: Call the therapist’s office
        C: Actually have a conversation on the phone with someone without hanging up
        D: Scheduling an appointment without changing your mind
        E: Driving/taking public transit to the appointment
        F: Enter the establishment and not run away
        G: Actually attend the appointment
        H: Actually talk about your issues during the appointment.

        Having at least some of your symptoms under control makes this whole process significantly easier. And I don’t recommend anyone try to solve the issues of their heart by themselves or without the aid of a professional. Sure, talk about your issues with others, that is absolutely healthy, but it’s not enough.

        I’m just speaking form personal experience. I think it is very, very important to do these practical things when seeking treatment for these issues, especially since mental illness is something that is misunderstood by so many people. I just think it is very important to talk to people who know what they are talking about, and not leave the solving of matters of the heart up to yourself or the people around you.

        I don’t think that’s what you were implying or anything, I just wanted the point to be clear. Anyone trying to raise awareness about this sort of thing is doing a good thing in my book.

  2. […] Dealing with Depression: A Christian Approach […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s