Thursday, March 1, 2018

What Causes Depression?

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.

Biological Causes

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.

Social Causes

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.

Mental/Emotional Causes

‘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.

Download a free ebook on depression, ie, this blog's articles

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?


  1. Peter thank you for sharing.

    “A lack of sleep such as chronic insomnia and a poor diet (including undiagnosed food intolerances) can also cause depression.” This can be so true. I believe this.

    Peter, you will not get any arguments from me when it comes to our childhood having a great effect on us and how it can lead to depression. Yes, I know what those insurmountable stumbling blocks feel like as you do/did.

    Good point to share, as it is true when we are depressed, we feel that God is so far away from us. And basically, I do not want to deal with anyone period.

  2. Depression is really terrible disease, I had the friend who was in hospital because of them. I read one article which was written by Christian psychiatrist - he asked people about 10 the most important things in their live. And in this answers, in the 90% of them, God was sixth or lower or there wasn't God in answers. And the conclusion was that if God would be at first place in ours live the number of depression was lower. I agree with this psychiatrist, but Your article is also interesting - we forgot that ours body has influence on ours mind.
    Depression is imprortant topic in present world.

  3. Thank you for continuing to share your victory, because of Him against this ugly disease. May God's richest blessings be upon you and your family.

  4. I am inclined to believe that many of the things that you mention as causes for depression are actually triggers or excuses for depression. We become inwardly focused upon ourselves, our problems, and our hopelessness and this focus will certainly result in depression. In times when I have gone thru periods of depression or when I see others who struggle with depression it is because they are dwelling inwardly upon their problems-- trying to fix them, understand them, question them. I would say do everything you can to redirect that inwardly focused negative energy into making your own life better, helping others, improving your community and environment, and focusing on God.

    You can't change the past, you can only take control of the present to make the future better, even if that future is your future mental state.

    Tossing It Out

    1. If you had a broken leg, would it be unkind of me to suggest that you are struggling with the pain of this affliction because you were too inwardly focused on your leg pain? That perhaps if you just got up and walked about a bit doing some housework that you could make your own life better? If only it were that simple. Mental illness is extremely serious, dangerous and painful. If there was such a simple fix there would be no need for specialists in mental health. I have experienced severe depression first hand and have also worked on mental health wards within psychiatric nursing teams for 13 years. Sufferers endure terrible dark times and even taken their own lives because of it. I think it is also important to realise that we are in a spiritual battle as well and that the enemy attacks the mind to kill and destroy.

    2. Thank you Naomi you give e up just as you do Peter. Thanking Jesus for you both

  5. Thank you, Peter for all this valuable information. What a victory you walk in and I love the way you help others.

    Bless you,

  6. Hi Peter,

    This is a great article and very enlightening. I hope more people get to read this. I totally agree with you. Depression is a very complex condition and many Christians have sadly mistaken that it is solely due to spiritual problems. I was under this false notions for some 17 years until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) during a relapse of very severe clinical depression.

    I am still learning to understand depression and mania, and have come to the realization that they are mixtures of many causes. Thank God that He is with us and He does not delight in our sufferings. He is the One holding tightly to us in our most difficult time and He draws us closer to Him to know Him in very real and personal way, and He lifts us up in His time. These experiences, awful as they are, can have a sanctifying effect on us and help us to grow in the Lord as He and His Spirit and Words become so real to us when nothing else helps. Thank God for always working all things for our good. Take care and have a blessed weekend and Lord's day.

    God bless,

  7. Carrie @

    Excellent post, Peter. I'm especially interested in your comments about your depression as a child. That must have been extrememly difficult for you. The Lord obviously had His hand of protection on you because your ministry is phenomenal.

  8. Peter
    Please accept my deepest thanks for these comments plus all of those who have added. I want you all to know just how valuable your contributions are in His name.
    Love in Christ

    1. Hi Rod,

      Thanks for the encouragement, it is greatly appreciated.

      God bless

  9. Peter, what about if your depression partly results from something you hoped for, but isn't happening and you've been waiting so long for it? I have been waiting for God to send me a spouse for years years and at almost 40, I'm still waiting. And absolutely discouraged. I have plenty of other things that have pushed me further and further into this pit besides that but that is one of my top reasons for feeling so sad, almost all the time. Years of being lonely has taken a toll and I no longer have the resilience to withstand the loneliness and sadness that I once tolerated with more strength and ease in my younger years.

    How do I cope?

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Unfulfilled hope can be a real bugbear, and can certainly cause depression. I have seen many suffer like you have described, when struggling to find a partner. (Struggling with it myself as well. I met my wife when I was 29 and she was 33.)

      The first thing I would recommend is to change your focus away from seeking a partner, to finding fulfilment in Christ. Let go of this painful issue, confessing that Jesus has all things in His hands, and trust Him to guide you to where He wants you to go. And let Him be your joy, your hope, your greatest joy giver.

      It is also true that the days of finding a spouse through traditional outlets (ie meeting someone through church) is perhaps not as common/relevant as previously. One consideration you could pray about is internet dating looking for a spouse from another country, using bonafide Christian sites.

      God bless

    2. hi Anonymous,
      I used to be so "crazy" about having someone...all my life i waited and waited...but then i attracted the wrong guy all the time...i was so focused to finding "love" and so my "happiness" took a back seat...and so i let go of that "waiting"...i am now going to be 45 soon but since i surrender my "singleness" to the Lord, i feel so much better...i am no longer depress about not having someone...i have more peace now than when i tried to hold on to that delusion that i will only be happy when i find a life partner...i also wanted desperately to have children but then i had problems with all my reproductive organs aside from the fact that i cannot find a partner...looking back into my life, I now understand and accept the Lord's will for me... I think i am probably too "neurotic" to be in a relationship...i was looking for "love" for the wrong reason and i was looking for my happiness in a partner...genuine happiness is found only from within...i am not 24/7 happy but i feel so much better now and feel free that i no longer look for happiness outside of me...always remember that there are many people that despite having the best "partner" are still unhappy...when i started to focus on other things and start having a genuine relationship with the Lord, i realized how "distorted" my thinking really is....don't get me wrong...i am not telling you to stop searching or waiting and praying for the right person to come but just remember to focus on the Lord and learn what He wills for you and totally surrender to what is...

    3. Please I messed my life up earlier with God wanting to me married then getting depressed, isolating, bitterness and jealous over others holding grudges. I have lost purpose of life and far away from God, I started sleeping around and drinking working all to get money and out from God period. lost everything....holy ghost. I don't know what to do. Scared nervous wanting to kill self can't find God or Lord. I hate this..

    4. Dear Rochelle,
      Please do not be discouraged. Jesus said that He came to save the sick, not the 'righteous.' Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:17

      Please return to Jesus, and repent of, and turn you back on, these sins. Then re-commit your life to Jesus, as Acts 16:31 says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." Then keep your eyes on Him and follow Him as Lord. Jesus can set up free from bitterness, jealousy, everything that has been tripping you up.

      Also, please join and get involved in a good local church, and seek counselling and prayer support. If you are still struggling with depression, please see a doctor and follow their advice to get it treated.

      God bless

  10. Hi, thank you for posting this. I was amazed to discover while reading that your journal entries were from the 90s (my mind tends to glaze over dates ect a lot when reading on the Internet lol)
    I'm amazed because, well, it's 2015 and your sharing about this misfortune resonates with me today. I'm always reminded of the verse that states that "we are to take comfort knowing the same trials are experienced throughout the brethren."
    I'm 20 years old. I will never say that I'm depressed or diagnose myself with that condition but I must say a lot of the symptoms you mentioned at the top of your post hit home with me. These last few years have been up and down with the ups being kinda great but also very sporadic and the downs, down far enough that I wanted to take my life on a number of occasions. The worst part of all is that it was only two years ago where I felt like I was no longer suicidal. It was awesome!! It was like my number one testimony and first thing I would mention to God when I would pray and give thanks when I was feeling like thanking him. My eyes had finally been opened to the Gospel of Grace and I was back in church and I didn't have a lot going on but I was excited for the future because God was in my corner and I was constantly learning new things about my inheritance and identity in christ... but it's been a little while now and I'm in some not so favorable situations, I don't know what to pray, people I know I love deep down tend to irritate me these days, I don't have that feeling with anyone these days where I think in my heart "man, this is a really good relationship, I'm so blessed" I feel like I can't do anything right, I feel like I'm always failing, I feel like I wold lay myself down like mat for people to walk on me just so I could experience connection in some form.

    I feel like I'm in a real pickle...

    (I could have used another word other than 'pickle' but I like to trivialise the notion of what feels like an unending catastrophe because why not (imagine if I was actually in a pickle that would be weird.. and salty.. actually as a pickle i would have a brighter future it seems then me currently.. i could even probably get a role in vegetales.. Also, If i were in a pickle life would be ALOT easier because i could simply just eat my way out. Though unpleasant, i would way rather eat a human binding sized pickle tto solve my problems then anything else I've come up with..))

    But in all srs, if your going through he'll keep on walking. If your still alive and reading this it means that the devil on his best day couldn't take you out on your worst..

    I'm in a better mood actually from writing this then I was before. No part of my situation has changed. at all. There's probably a parable in that.

    I believe I will come through this.
    Sometimes Ithe doesn't look like I will.
    Sometimes it feels like God doesn't seem to care about me.
    Sometimes it feels like he helps everyone but me.
    Sometimes it feels like he helps no one.

    The word is true. The devil is a liar. Jesup is alive. God is still on the throne. He is still my daddy.
    He is still my Shepard.

    I will live, I will not die.

    Ps in case anyone is reading this (God knows why anyone would be lol.. ridiculous.. If you are still reading this... u need help.. ;) )
    Check out any

    Joseph prince resources.. He has a YouTube channel just time in 'Joseph prince'
    He also has a website (just Google his name)
    Also check outhe
    'Joel osteen'
    He too has a youtube channel.

    Thank you for this blog.. IT helped me out a lot.

    I haven't read some of the other comments yet but
    I pray for both you and I..

    All glory to Jesup amen..

  11. Hi Peter, I am hoping you or others can share the manner in which the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sins so you can confess them. I don't feel convicted like I used to and I fear it's a result of disobedience. Please help, as I have a lot of fear and anxiety over this.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      The Holy Spirit can convict of sin by highlighting it in our lives, by giving us a nudge in our spirit that what we are doing is wrong, or He can convict us through His Word, or even through words from a minister, friend, or etc.

      The important things are that when we have sinned, we confess it to God, and accept His forgiveness and cleansing. The second thing is that we repent of the sin and stop doing it if its habitual.

      1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

      Please note, also, that one of the symptoms of anxiety/depression is false/excessive guilt.

      God bless,

  12. I completely agree with the cause often being multiple factors.

    I suffer from quite a few ailments that make sleep difficult if not at times impossible. Sleeping pills only drug me out but don't help me sleep any better. Chronic pain has left me with chronic fatigue. So I take lots of Ibuprofen and cortisone, medication to help the fatigue and medication to help the depression. I was already biologically prone to bi-polar depression. I've been learning to recognize the depression as attributed to when I am especially tired or missed a dose of the antidepressant. And no they don't cause euphoria as some think, but they help me to think more clearly and feel normal. They more or less erase the major negative in my thoughts that seem to go non-stop when depression hits.

    Multiple childhood traumas of molestation, along with being in and out of hospitals and then having open heart surgery also left its mark which lead to poor eating habits.

    Then there's the back injury sustained from a reckless driver. And some very long running massive stressful situations all lumped together.

    Medication can sometimes be trial and error for awhile but it takes time to find what works.

    But I would like to add another possible cause to the mix.

    I moved out of state for a number of years. Shortly after I decided once and for all to get healthy. I began to eat right and exercise. I went from 260 to 140 and ran 3 miles a day. Circumstances brought me home and it became harder to keep up the pace and I gained 10 pounds gradually. Then I entered the stressful period and gained a bit more. At 170 and some of the stress abating, I started to exercise again and tried to eat better. But then I began to suffer one illness after another. Now at 225...try as I might, it seems impossible. I've beat myself up over it, which doesn't help the depression. So I just keep praying for God to increase my strength. The chronic fatigue has created a sweet tooth monster who craves energy. So I'm now on medication to combat that...I just wish it worked.

    The fact that obesity and depression are high here, and as this area has been a chemical hub for ages, and seeing how I was able to get healthy and determined once out of this state then dropped when I returned...all this has convinced me that depression can also be regional. So it's something else to consider to those battling depression. Watch for the signs, and if you can move, it might be a very good idea.

  13. Hello Peter. How do I deal with sorrow I am presently going through.
    I am from hindu background and so much desire my husband to accept Jesus as his Lord and saviour.
    I so much desire my daughter who is baptized to make Jesus the centre of her life and tell her friends to come to Jesus.
    I so much desire my son to be baptized and tell others that Jesus saves, heals and is coming back. I get so depressed when I don't see this in my household.
    My daughter in law coming from sikh background has rejected to come to church and know Christ which is heart breaking. My son told me to stop witnessing to her.
    I feel God has abandoned me.
    The word promises God does not want anyone to perish but to come to the knowledge of Him. He has His timing and ways of revealing Himself to them. But it is taking so much out of me that I have lost the joy. I don't want to participate in hindu worship and have so much dispute with family members when invited by relatives. By the way this is when invited to hindu weddings in the temple or at home for some religious function.. I am told to go and sit with them but don't participate. I get counselling from church but feel I am tiring them out with my problems. I feel so alone. Just wanted to share my heart out.
    Just want to say your site is helping many people and trust will continue to do so and may The Lord's face shine upon you and may He be gracious to you in Jesus Christ name.

    1. Dear Sulakshna,

      Thank you for sharing what you are going through. I thank God for your faithfulness, in living a Godly life before Him, being a good witness to those around you. It is wonderful that you are choosing to please God before men. God will give you eternal rewards for this.

      Regarding the desires for your family members to become Christians, that are weighing you down so terribly, may I encourage you to hand these burdens to Jesus to carry. And then to change your focus so that knowing Jesus Christ becomes the goal of your life. (Keep praying for your family, of course, and be ever ready to give a reason for your faith and hope in Christ, but focus on coming closer to Jesus, to knowing Him.) 1 Peter 3:15 "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 2 Peter 1:2 "Grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord."

      May I encourage you to read this post from this blog. Knowing Christ is Enough

      God bless

  14. Hi, I have been struggling with depression and anxiety ever since being very young due to a difficult childhood. I have gradually weaned myself off of anti depressants as I felt that I wanted to rely on God to heal me rather than medication. I prayed to God yesterday crying out to Him to help me as it was getting too much to bear. I was so desperate and opened up my bible at any random page hoping it would offer me an answer. This random approach would not normally be my chosen method in seeking the Lord. However it thankfully opened at Psalm 143. David is in the pits of despair in his suffering. I then prayed through this psalm and took David's advice, meditating on God's works. I then wrote out a whole list of God's character eg He is loving, kind, trustworthy, compassionate, faithful .... a very long list! I then wrote a list of what Joy is, then a list of what Peace is. I read this list out loud to take in the fullness of God. The next day, ie today God led me to question myself in terms of how I actually talk to myself internally. I discovered that I treat myself quite harshly, can be condemning, unkind, unforgiving with little compassion. God showed me that this self hatred was causing my depression and stealing me of experiencing peace and joy in Him. I realised that when the Lord tells us to love our enemies that I in fact was treating myself worse than I would an enemy! With this I prayed for forgiveness and renounced all self hatred. I prayed that His spirit would convict me each time that I persecuted myself so that I could repent of this and renew my mind, training me to speak encouraging loving words to myself. I then asked to be filled with the Holy spirit and to be blessed with peace and joy. This is day one, but already I am feeling so much more positive than before. I think this is going to be a journey/process where the Lord wants me to learn how to love myself as He does. I hope this share is useful. As depressed people we can be ever so hard on ourselves and without even realising, putting ourselves down, being harsh, impatient, angry and downright nasty to ourselves. This is actually sinful as we belong to God and this is mistreating ourselves. The Holy Spirit CONVICTS us in order to HELP us get out of the pit, He does NOT condemn us which is very different indeed. We must be mindful of this. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. I hope this helps someone, and can keep you posted on how things are going. God Bless

  15. RochelleFebruary 12, 2017 at 6:08 AM

    Please I messed my life up earlier with God wanting to me married then getting depressed, isolating, bitterness and jealous over others holding grudges. I have lost purpose of life and far away from God, I started sleeping around and drinking working all to get money and out from God period. lost everything....holy ghost. I don't know what to do. Scared nervous wanting to kill self can't find God or Lord. I hate this..

    Dear Rochelle,
    Please do not be discouraged. Jesus said that He came to save the sick, not the 'righteous.' Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:17

    Please return to Jesus, and repent of, and turn you back on, these sins. Then re-commit your life to Jesus, as Acts 16:31 says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." Then keep your eyes on Him and follow Him as Lord. Jesus can set up free from bitterness, jealousy, everything that has been tripping you up.

    Also, please join and get involved in a good local church, and seek counselling and prayer support. If you are still struggling with depression, please see a doctor and follow their advice to get it treated.

    God bless