Depression was the most confusing and bewildering experience of my life. I spent countless hours trying to work out what was wrong with me and what it was that caused me to get into such a state.
From my diary, 8th February 1990 -
I think and think,
and try to work out
what has happened to me and why,
and what I should be doing.
But it is a worthless exercise,
I am allergic to my own thoughts.
Months later I learned that I was suffering from depression, and that the illness can be caused by biological, mental/emotional, and social factors, and more commonly, a combination of all three.
Without going into the technical details, it is sufficient to say that as with any part of the human body, there are a great many things that can go wrong with the human brain and mind. More complex causes of depression can include chemical/genetic imbalances in the brain and glandular disorders. A lack of sleep such as chronic insomnia and a poor diet (including undiagnosed food intolerances) can also cause depression. And ‘there is some evidence to show that severe depression runs in families. This has led to the conclusion that some people innately may be more prone to depression than others...” (1)
I suffered from chronic insomnia in 1989, the year that preceded my descent into severe depression. This had started in my late teens and had grown progressively worse, the result I believe of having undiagnosed complex partial epilepsy. I have only been able to sleep naturally after being placed on anti-seizure meds in my mid-thirties. That year I also made the mistake of eating poorly and skipping exercise. Both of my parents have also suffered from depression.
One thing that I have learned is that our past, and especially what transpired during our childhood years, typically catches up with us once we reach adulthood. Any form of child abuse, whether physical, mental or emotional, and even rejection, can either cause depression or make a depressive episode much worse than it would have been otherwise. Over disciplining a child, or setting unattainable goals or unrealistic standards for them, can also play a factor.
The Christian counsellor I saw when I was depressed spent hours helping me to face and deal with issues from my childhood - issues that during depression had grown out of proportion to become insurmountable stumbling blocks.
‘It is well known that the stresses of life stimulate depression, especially when these stresses involve a loss. Loss of an opportunity, a job, status, health, freedom...possessions...can each lead to depression. Then there is the loss of people. Divorce, death, or prolonged separations are painful and known to be among the most effective depression-producing events of life.’ (2) In November 1989, I suffered a major shock that caused me great stress.
The feeling of being trapped by situations such as those listed above - situations over which we have no control, also contributes to depression, as does a habit of thinking negatively on every aspect of life, including having a negative self-concept.
Another cause of depression is anger turned inward, in other words, towards ourselves. If we are deeply hurt but have no outlet for expressing the ensuing anger, this can lead to frustration, resentment, and deeper anger, which can cause depression. (3)
Guilt, in response to failure or wrong doing, can also cause depression.
One thing I would like to share in closing is that it is common for Christians to suspect that our depression has spiritual causes, since we typically feel so far from God when depressed. I also remember fearing that it was God who was inflicting the depression upon me. When I shared this with my counsellor, she said, “We make the mistake in thinking that because our spiritual life is affected by depression, the cause must be spiritual. But this is incorrect; depression touches every part of us, so why do we think that it will not touch us spiritually?” My counsellor reassured me of the truth, that God does not afflict depression upon anyone. God is a loving God who delights in giving us good and perfect gifts, as well as comforting us in our times of trouble.
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All verses from the NIV.
(1) Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980, p87.
(2) Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980, p88.
(3) Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980, p88.
How can a Christian get depressed?
Can a Christian get depressed?