Many people battle depression. When we face an identity crisis or adversity in our lives, we often have a tendency to look inward. During this mini-series, Pastor David Boone of New Covenant Fellowship explains how a fundamental understanding of the gospel can help defeat depression.
part one: defeating depression intro
You have a bounce in your step, joy in your heart, your head up high, a contagious smile on your face, a twinkle in your eye. You sing in the shower. Your countenance is radiant. You jump out of bed ready to start your day, carpe diem you think with enthusiasm and motivation. You are excited about work, ready for whatever challenges may come your way. Bring it on, world! Glass half empty? Not even close. Glass half full? Nope. Glass overfloweth! If God is for you who can be against you?
That was three years ago. Today, it’s a different story.
Now, you just can’t find the motivation to get out of bed in the morning. But then at night you can’t get to sleep, it’s like God is holding your eyelids open. Your thoughts are racing at times, anxious. At other times you can’t think straight, you zone out. At times you just have no appetite and at other times, you eat because you’re unhappy and you’re unhappy because you eat; it’s a vicious cycle. Your heart has sunken into your bowels. Darkness, sadness, gloom. Nobody likes you everybody hates you. You’re gonna eat some worms. Glass half full? No. Half empty? There is no glass, much less the liquid to halfway occupy or not occupy said non existent glass. In fact, the reason the glass is not there – you broke it and there’s broken glass all over the floor and you have bare feet.
You have now plumbed the depths of depression.
Now perhaps you don’t like the term “depression.” Six or seven years ago, I didn’t like the term – at least I didn’t like it applied to me. Maybe to others, but not me. My attitude was something like, depression is for the weak. If you’re depressed, maybe you’re lost because Christians shouldn’t be depressed. So me, depressed? No. I may be:
- But not depressed
Perhaps I was:
- In a funk
- in a bad mood
- Having a bad day
- Having a bad week
- Having a bad month
- Having a bad year
- Having a bad life,
But I’m not depressed okay!
This morning we are beginning a new sermon series entitled defeating depression in which we will explore depression and discuss some of the practical and Biblical ways to overcome depression, to defeat depression, to be victorious over that nasty thing known as depression.
So before we begin discussing depression and how to defeat it, let’s get on the same page and define depression.
The dictionary defines depression thus:
Depression: the state of being depressed; sadness; gloom; dejection; a condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason.
Now if you’re like I was, and you don’t like the connotation of “depressed” then, let’s deal with its denotation, its actual definition. Based on that definition, we have all probably experienced depression to one degree or another at some point.
At some point we have all probably experienced sadness, gloom or dejection. At some point we have all probably had a general emotional dejection and withdrawal that wasn’t warranted by objective reason. For whatever reason we were just sad and we didn’t know why, we couldn’t explain it.
- That bounce in our step disappeared and we were just dragging our feet.
- That contagious smile was replaced by a downcast demeanor.
- That twinkle in our eye disappeared and our countenance fell.
And if you haven’t yet experienced this, then you probably will at some point, living in a fallen world.
And if you never do, if somehow you are forever spared the experience of sadness and gloom, then at some point you will probably interact with someone who does experience it. So if you are tempted to think, “Man, we are going to spend the next few weeks talking about this. What a waste of my time on Sunday mornings. Let me know when we start the next sermon series and I’ll start attending again at that point.” Let me challenge you:
You may be at that point when there is a bounce in your step, joy in your heart, smile on your face and twinkle in your eye, but you don’t know what your emotional condition will be in three years, three months, three weeks, three days.
SO CONSIDER THIS PREPARATION, TRAINING GROUNDS.
The military doesn’t wait until war breaks out and then start training for battle; they prepare in advance so when war comes they are equipped for battle.
That is the goal with this series. Some of you actually may be in the middle of battling depression right now and this series will hopefully be especially helpful for you as on the job training. But for those of you who are not, this series should serve as a means of equipping you with some practical and Biblical ways of defeating that depression when it arrives and rears its ugly head.
Let’s begin by discussing some of the causes of depression and then some of the cures. This morning will be an overview of where we will be headed over the next few weeks.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF DEPRESSION?
There are probably myriad causes of depression that I will fail to mention, but we will spend our time discussing a few:
- sin seems to be major player in the game
- sin we commit
- sins others commit against us
- chemical imbalance
SIN AS A CAUSE OF DEPRESSION
Let’s first consider sin as a cause of depression.
Defining sin in the new covenant can be a little bit trickier than in the Old Covenant. In the OC, it was simply to walk contrary to the LOM. As believers in Christ, as part of the NC community, we are not under the LOM, so at times the concept of sin may seem more ambiguous. I think that one thing that we can all agree upon is that the royal law is love, that we are called to love God and love others and therefore, whatever is unloving toward God or toward our neighbor in some way would be sin. Therefore, sin is extremely relational.
We are relational beings. We were created for relationships. If you consider the times when you have felt depressed, when you have felt, sadness, gloom, dejection, how many of those times could you trace those feelings those emotions back to a break in fellowship, a rift in a relationship with someone else?
Whether you are experiencing depression because you did wrong to another or because another did wrong to you, it comes back to the fact that somehow a relationship is out of whack and sin is at the root. Sin is a major cause of depression.
We were created to be in fellowship with God. The Bible essentially teaches that all sin, even those committed against other people is ultimately against God. For those of us who know God and love God, it is no surprise that doing wrong to God or failing to show love to God in some way is a cause of depression, sadness, gloom. Again, sin causes depression.
CIRCUMSTANCES AS A CAUSE OF DEPRESSION
Sometimes our circumstances are a cause of depression. Some people experience depression when they lose a job, whether they are fired, let go, or replaced. Losing a job can result in depression. Some people experience depression due to the loss of a loved one, especially if it isn’t due to old age, and especially if it was unexpected. Some people experience depression because they lost something they held dear. Perhaps a tornado wiped out their house or their house caught on fire and they lost all of their possessions minus the clothing on their backs. Loss in general can certainly cause one to feel sadness, gloom or dejection.
Sometimes people experience depression when they are diagnosed with an illness or when a family member is ill. Sometimes people experience depression when they get passed over for a promotion and maybe a less qualified individual receives it. Sin isn’t necessarily involved. We haven’t sinned against anyone. Nobody has sinned against us. These are circumstances over which we don’t necessarily have any control. Those are the cards that life has dealt and they can result in depression.
Our thought life is another major cause of depression. Sad, gloomy, thoughts of dejection lead to emotions of sadness, gloom, and dejection. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
Yes, sin may be a major player in the game of depression. However, if somebody sins against us, we choose our reaction to that sin. If we choose to harbor unforgiveness and we think ill thoughts toward that person leading to bitterness, will those thoughts lead to a happy and blessed emotional state or a dark and depressed emotional state?
Circumstances can be a major cause of depression. However, while we cannot always control our circumstances, we choose our reaction. The same sun that melts butter also hardens clay. One individual loses a job and thinks oh no, I will never find another job. The economy is horrible and the job market is tough. I’m done for. His thoughts lead to depression. Another individual loses his job and thinks, “God must have something better in store for me. God must be closing this door and opening another. How exciting to start a new chapter in life.” His thoughts are not depressing, but a blessing.
From what I have found in my studies, it seems that depression can often times be the result of a chemical imbalance of sorts. This is on the medical, nutritional, scientific side of things, and I don’t have the credentials to speak on these matters authoritatively, but I will offer some of my findings.
To simply say that depression results from a chemical imbalance is an over simplification. Our nervous system uses chemicals as signals to communicate within that system. Chemical messengers that transport these chemical messages are known as neruotransmitters.
Depression has been linked to problems or imbalances in the brain with regard to the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
The neurotransmitter serotonin is involved in regulating many important physiological (body-oriented) functions, including sleep, aggression, eating, sexual behavior, and mood.
Current research suggests that a decrease in the production of serotonin by these neurons can cause depression in some people, and more specifically, a mood state that can cause some people to feel suicidal.
Norepinephrine helps our bodies to recognize and respond to stressful situations. Researchers suggest that people who are vulnerable to depression may have a norepinephrinergic system that doesn’t handle the effects of stress very efficiently.
The neurotransmitter dopamine is also linked to depression. Dopamine plays an important role in regulating our drive to seek out rewards, as well as our ability to obtain a sense of pleasure. Low dopamine levels may in part explain why depressed people don’t derive the same sense of pleasure out of activities or people that they did before becoming depressed.
Again, I am not trying to say that all depression comes down to sin, circumstances, thoughts, or chemical imbalance. I don’t think it is necessarily that simple because depression is an emotional creature and emotions aren’t always logical, they aren’t always reasonable, and I don’t know that we can always pinpoint the cause of depression as if it were an exact science.
I think it’s possible that at times we may not know the cause of our depression. We can analyze it to death and perhaps arrive at nothing.
Nonetheless, it isn’t a hopeless or worthless endeavor and I think that for the most part, we can recognize the causes and we have at our disposal the cure. If we are experiencing depression it is usually the result of something. It is my personal opinion that in many ways our emotions are indicative, that when we are experiencing depression, it is like a warning sign that something isn’t right. Think of depression like the oil light on your dashboard.
Your dashboard has a light on it that either says “OIL” or looks like an old-school oil can. What should you do if this light illuminates while you’re driving? Should you ignore it or just put a piece of electrical tape over it so it doesn’t bug you?
NO! Stop the car! This is one warning light that you shouldn’t just overlook or ignore. The oil light comes on when your engine suffers a drop in oil pressure. Without oil pressure it can’t self-lubricate, resulting in self-destruction, necessitating some extremely expensive engine repairs.
If we are experiencing depression, it’s like our body’s warning light has come on and is telling us to stop and check the system. You’re down, you’re sad, you’re gloomy, you can’t eat, you overeat, you can’t sleep, you can’t get out of bed. Time to assess the situation and look for the cause of these symptoms. Perhaps it is our body’s way of telling us that something needs to change somewhere…at least if we want to defeat depression and recover that radiant joy that we once possessed. Perhaps it is an indication that there is sin in our life that has caused a rift in a relationship, whether between us and God or us and another person. Perhaps someone has sinned against us and there has never been forgiveness or full resolution and reconciliation. Perhaps there are simply sour circumstances over which we have no control, but we do have control over our response and perhaps our response has contributed to depression. Perhaps our thoughts have taken us to a dark place. Perhaps there is a chemical imbalance that needs to be addressed.
Depression can serve as a warning light to us that something in our life is out of sorts and if we can identify the source, we can make the necessary changes in our life or lifestyle to overcome that emotion to defeat depression.
WE HAVE DISCUSSED SOME OF THE MAJOR CAUSES, LET’S BRIEFLY DISCUSS SOME CURES
What if sin is the source of our depression, then what is the necessary cure to overcome that depression? If it is our own sin, then confession and repentance would be the cure. To confess means to say the same as. The idea of confession as I understand it means to say the same about that sin as God does. To acknowledge it as sin. To repent means to turn away, to change your mind. Now that you have confessed that you have sinned, change your mind about it, turn away from it, move forward in righteousness. Do this first with God since ultimately all sin is against him and do so through prayer, simple conversation with Him. If you have sinned against another person specifically, then go to that person humbly and apologize, seeking their forgiveness.
If your circumstances are the cause of your depression, determine whether you have any control over those circumstances. If you do have control over them, do what you can to change them in your favor, within reason and legally, and in righteousness. If you don’t have control over those circumstances, remember that you do have control over your response, so work toward a positive response.
If your thoughts are the cause of depression, then change your thought patterns, take those thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.
I mentioned earlier that in my studies it seems that there is a connection between depression and chemicals, that depression can be the result of a chemical imbalance.
Before we go any further, I want to acknowledge the existence of what is known as “clinical depression” which is defined as a depression so severe as to be considered abnormal, either because of no obvious environmental causes, or because the reaction to unfortunate life circumstances is more intense or prolonged than would generally be expected.
Now I don’t have the credentials to speak with authority on clinical depression from a medical standpoint, so I have very little to offer in that realm. But I want to acknowledge it and note that those who are diagnosed with clinical depression are often prescribed antidepressant medication. I, personally, have no problem with medication, but I will say that in my opinion, prescription medication should be the last resort and that we should look first to natural remedies and cures.
So again, I want to acknowledge that there may be severe cases of depression that could be classified as clinical depression which necessitate medication, but that is not for me to diagnose or treat.
When it comes to a cure for depression caused by a chemical imbalance, we are essentially trying to balance it. I think it should first be attempted by means of diet and exercise, removal of chemicals known to depress, like depressants, or stimulants, if natural means are not successful, then explore possibility of medical help, but I think we tend to over medicate to try to overcompensate for malnutrition poor nutrition and unhealthy lifestyles.
As the oil lamp on the dashboard says check the system and add lubricant, I think we should see depression as a warning sign that perhaps there is a chemical imbalance and we need to check our lifestyle.
Again, with medication as a last resort, I believe that a healthy diet and exercise are instrumental in either overcoming depression or preventing it.
According to Karen K. Brees, Ph.D.
Exercise taps directly into the mind/body connection to work its wonders against depression. For the body, exercise does the following:
- Relieves the symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Builds a healthy self-image and promotes confidence
- Provides healthy coping strategies
Endorphins, those “feel good” hormones, are activated when you exercise.
While antidepressants can take up to three weeks to reach effective levels in your system, exercise has an almost immediate positive effect. In our impatient, fast-paced world, that’s an added plus for exercise.
Norepinephrine (nor-pin-EPHrin) is a neurotransmitter in your brain, and it gets a jump start from exercise. Once it’s been activated, it seems to work directly on improving your mood.
In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999, researchers found that exercise was just as effective as antidepressant medication.
There’s also evidence that exercise can help prevent a relapse of depression. In a follow-up to the study mentioned above, researchers found that those people who continued to exercise after the conclusion of the study were less likely to relapse into depression. That was very good news, since relapse is not uncommon.
Serotonin influences mood. High levels are associated with an elevated mood while low levels are associated with depression. Though many neurotransmitters work in harmony to influence mood, serotonin is one of the most important. Its levels are influenced by external factors, such as sunlight, diet and exercise.
Dopamine production is directly related to serotonin levels. When serotonin is elevated, dopamine elevates in response.
Not only does exercise help depression by the release of endorphins and increased neurotransmitters, a healthy diet rich in nutrients can help with depression.
A 2010 national study found that the likelihood of having depression is higher in people with deficiency in vitamin D compared to people who are sufficient in vitamin D.
Recently, scientists have revealed that a deficit of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with depression. In one study, researchers determined that societies that eat a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids have a higher prevalence of major depressive disorder than societies that get ample omega-3 fatty acids. Other studies show that people who infrequently eat fish, which is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, are more likely to suffer from depression.
Many people who are depressed also have problems with alcohol and/or drugs. Alcohol and drugs can interfere with mood, sleep, and motivation.
I interviewed a handful of NCFers and asked them if they have dealt with depression how they were able to overcome it and I would like to share some of their answers with you because I believe they are inspiring and helpful.
“I was able to defeat it or overcome it, one, by dealing with whatever was making me feel that way, not trying to just tell myself get over it but actually recognize what made me feel like that. Pray about it, talk to people about my struggles and make sure I didn’t isolate myself in it.”
“When I was a teenager around transition from middle school to high school. I overcame it by talking with my mom a lot and eventually my friend started taking me to youth group and I was surrounded by people and I just stopped thinking about it.”
“To stop being self-centered, to think about the worries and pains of others, to pray, to spend more time with the lord, and to motivate myself to move, because typically my forms of depression were very debilitating so rather than being a shut in I had to get outside and do something.”
“As a young person I did experience depression to the point where I didn’t want to get out of bed or I would cut myself. Basically, I refused medication, and just started to try to think more positively and hang around people with more positive attributes than negative. Or a lot of my friends were also depressed or would also cut themselves so I wouldn’t hang out with them anymore because that would just continue the cycle. Tell yourself there is a light at the end of the tunnel and take it.”
“Jesus. Jesus helped me. And church. Just people helped by talking through it with me, what I was going through.”
Everyone deals with depression to a degree at some point we are all sad, gloomy or dejected. Whether it is caused by sin, circumstances, our thoughts, or a chemical imbalance our goal is to defeat depression. Some practical ways to do that include:
- confession, repentance
- positive thinking
- eat healthy
- get some sun
and as one of your fellow NCFers said, “Jesus.”