Scripture quotations taken from the NASB

Overcoming Depression

"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). If you are in a depression you are not free. A doctor told me that the reason it is called depression is that it depresses the functions of the body. You might not be able to explain it, but you have a sense that something isn't right. This example sounds gruesome, but you've probably heard the rendition of the frog in a pot of water on a stove where, when the heat is turned up, it will cook and not even realize it should jump out of the pot. It didn't know the truth, but the scripture says you will know it and it will set you free.

You are healthy when your body works properly. But there are holistic aspects of your being involving emotions, feelings, mood, thoughts and behavior. It is said this is your mental health. If you get physically sick it is called an illness. Most people don't worry about catching a cold. A mental problem would be categorized as mental illness. Unfortunately that can have a negative connotation. But it might have a biological source and it is regarded as a medical disorder. It is treatable and should be treated. It is more common in our society than you might think. But depressed people often don't seek treatment possibly because they don't even recognize they have a treatable disorder.

Symptoms

Depression is identified by its symptoms. A common attribute is sadness. When people have an ordinary mood swing they'll say they are depressed. But if it lasts for over two weeks and you "can't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" then it may be a symptom of a disorder. At that point it is good to seek help. Otherwise it may go on for week after week, month after month, and year after year. That kind of prolonged problem is called a clinical depression because it requires treatment. Symptoms persist and strongly affect thinking, feelings and behavior. They can become so disabling that they interfere with the ability to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. But not all symptoms may be present and their severity may vary. Serious manifestations may indicate a major depression. Less severe signs may point to dysthymia which is chronic, though manageable, but will prevent you from functioning at full potential and make you susceptible to further depression.

If you're depressed the symptoms pertain in a large way to your feelings. There's a tendency to think of this as psychological. You might say to yourself you have to "shake yourself out of it." Others might counsel "pull yourself together." But you hear of many people who just can't even get out of bed in the morning. This is why its an organic, medical disorder. But how can a biological cause be responsible for emotional manifestations in the mental realm? Its because brain chemistry is unbalanced which affects thinking and nerve functioning.

One of the characteristics is the persistence of the symptoms 24 hrs/day with no end in sight (not even a "light at the end of the tunnel"). One person said its like having the flu which never goes away--at least with a virus or germs the body will eventually heal. Even though the source is biological it has the result of affecting you emotionally because your thoughts monitor the predicament and your hope suffers because you can't visualize a solution. You, in effect, become helpless to figure out your own dilemma. This inadequacy leads to lack of confidence in yourself and feeling worthless. If you've always been a responsible person you may even begin to feel guilty. Then pessimism could be right around the corner. Pessimism is a tendency to look at everything negatively. One person commented that you become a different person. If your condition is chronic then its possible to lose sight of who you once were. Also, with your will power strained its possible to make bad decisions. If your behavior changes its good to get counseling so you don't go off in the wrong direction.

Depression is more that feeling blue (i.e. down in the dumps). It is also a matter of exhaustion and fatigue. It is not only psychological but physiological. You don't feel energetic and you may feel slowed down. It is not a matter of being deprived of calories because depression "depresses" the whole body. You feel fatigued all the time and its difficult to motivate yourself. Thinking can be tiring and making a decision may seem impossible. Concentrating and remembering things may be beyond your capabilities. You may feel restless and unable to focus. You may not be able to accomplish your work properly and could be ineffective in other areas. A mental burden weighs you down and it seems you must carry it wherever you go. Activities you previously enjoyed no longer interest you. Its like someone's turned on a low frequency wave generator which neutralizes all positive and meaningful expression and leaves the world with only superficial activity. Another symptom of depression is not sleeping very well or sleeping too much. Any solution for a Christian is contained in God's promises. This one is "he grants sleep to those he loves" (Psalm 127:2). Therefore, to overcome this concern "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" ( 1 Peter 5:7).

Road to Recovery

Recovery will take a different approach. "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand" (Proverbs 19:21). If you are genuinely depressed then grandiose plans are beyond your capabilities. "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (16:9). You need to take it one step at a time. Even taking a step can be baffling. You still have responsibilities but multi-tasking may be too difficult. The old saying "necessity is the mother of invention" applies. Deep in your heart man believes" (Romans 10:10). If you know in your heart something needs to be done then your mind won't mislead you. You can feel confident and at rest when you take that step. God does "enlarge my steps under me" (Psalm 18:36).

Accomplishing each manageable task satisfies. But if too much is attempted it disappoints. Its easy to become disappointed. Self-condemnation may result leading to thoughts of suicide. At the state employment office they interview a person before they send him out to a job interview. They want to determine if the applicant is qualified and don't want to waste the employer's time. But just as importantly they know that a person will become disappointed if he gets rejected for one job after another. You know the old saying "variety is the spice of life." Vary your activities and do things differently where applicable because one of the contributors to your depression may be too rigid a mind set and expecting too much of yourself.

At some point you must exercise your will power to give yourself a push to get going. But shelving this phase may reinforce not trying, and this attitude may become self-perpetuating. A rationale for it may be necessary. If you can apply your thought processes to solving a real-world problem then practical feedback will encourage you. If the project has a realistic application in your life then it will build you up because you perceive that you can succeed at something. It provides a direction to go in instead of around in circles without any goal. But without pacing yourself you'll "jump out of the frying pan and into the fire." You need periods of rest and exercise. Pushing yourself too hard unnecessarily for too long causes fatigue and loss of ground gained. You must have some realistic long term goals, but locking yourself into them prevents the freedom and flexibility you need to work yourself out of your depression. "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).

Professional Help

There are various causes of depression and it will take a doctor to diagnose it. The solution might involve a combination of medicine and counseling. An aspect of the latter is changing cognitive behavior. Stress is a major factor and its possible you precipitate it yourself as with a Type A personality who constantly pressures himself. If "survival of the fittest" is your motivation then stress is very likely to result. Jesus said "all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). "Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" (Galations 6:7). But the answer is in the other direction for "whoever wants to save his life will lose it" (Mark 8:35). Counseling will give you the chance to change your behavior to alleviate stress and overcome depression. If you cooperate then God "will give you the treasures of [this] darkness" (Isaiah 45:13) for answers. You have the opportunity to learn the meaning of "you are not your own; you were bought at a price" (1 Cor 6:19-20).

Professional advice in pamphlets suggests not to make major life decisions without consultation. Does that mean depression makes your mind vulnerable as if "not running on all cylinders?" Research indicates that vulnerability could be due to imbalances in the brain neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Deficiency in the first may cause sleep problems, irritability and anxiety. The same in the second may contribute to fatigue and depressed mood. What's interesting is that when you read labels on memory enhancement supplements some ingredients are supposed to build up transmitters which cause brain cells to communicate with one another.

This communication takes place within the neuron or nerve cell. It takes place when an electrical pulse is transmitted along the cell's axon connected to another neuron. There are neurotransmitters stored in small vesicles which get released by the electric current into the synaptic gap between two neurons which activates the adjacent cell. These molecules are then either destroyed by enzymes or reabsorbed into the neuron. But there is an antidepressant called SSRI which stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. This antidepressant postpones the neurotransmitter's recycling so it can operate longer.

Treatment

One of the primary causes of depression is stress. But it can also have biological, genetic, or psychological sources. Therefore a doctor's diagnosis is essential. However, if it is complicated a misdiagnosis is possible. As a patient you are entitled to ask questions you might have and you should not hide any information which might be crucial. You should not be so cooperative that you just take drugs without thorough investigation. Going the wrong direction will just postpone a solution. You are entitled to becoming informed, but doctor's visits are costly. Printed material should be made available so you aren't kept "in the dark" and would worry all the more about what you don't understand.

Antidepressants are supposed to speed recovery by eliminating symptoms and enhancing motivation and energy. Therefore, drugs are not meant to be curative in themselves like an anti-biotic would be. Newer antidepressants target different or combined brain chemicals. A significant number of patients find relief within 6-8 weeks and most on the first or second drug tried. But a third may require further refinements. There are also side effects to consider. Most medication is approved for shorter periods, but long term use depends on successful intervals without occurrences of depression. You see testimonies of people who find the correct drug and have to stay on it permanently. Its important to resolve the problem early because major depression is a recurrent illness and the more episodes you have, the worse they can get, and the less stress it takes to trigger them. But recent research has discovered that anatomical changes are reversible and complete recovery is possible.

The brain needs energy. It uses 20% of the body's supply, 50% of the sugar in the blood, 20% of all inhaled oxygen, and 25% of the body's metabolic activity takes place there. Proteins are crucial to the brain. They are composed of amino acids and there are ten essential ones obtained only from the diet. Foods contain different combinations of them but they must be balanced and over the limiting amount to prevent deficiencies of them. Lack of certain amino acids causes depression. You might think that gobbling up a lot of them will load up the brain. But there is a brain-blood-barrier that prevents water-soluble toxins from entering. Since most major brain nutrients are water-soluble this complicates things. For this reason, if you wanted to manufacture brain neurotransmitters youd have to use precursor loading which involves eating more of the nutrients that the body converts to neurotransmitters.

In order to be processed efficiently these amino acids cannot be bound up in molecular chains but must be in free form. A proper precursor is the chemical starting point for changes made which result in the desired neurotransmitter. Serotonin is an important end product. L-tryptophan is its precursor which, midway through its conversion process, becomes 5-hydroxytryptophan. Today there is a product called 5-HTP which represents this state and would create serotonin. Another important neurotransmitter is norepinephrine and a precursor to it is L-tyrosine which goes through a couple of conversions requiring additional chemical input. You can increase the effectiveness of the process by ensuring that the required vitamins (e.g. vitamin B6) and other ingredients are present. A factor to consider is that amino acids compete with one another for absorption by the body, so the precursors should be taken at different times to avoid conflict. However, self-medication may, at best, just be supplemental. Proper treatment should be by a doctor and possibly a therapist.

Cast Your Cares

What if your situation seems insoluble and you feel like giving up because you don't seem to have the strength to continue? Have you tried "casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you" (1Pe 5:7)? "'Do not be anxious for your life'" (Mt 6:25). Jesus instructed some in Smyrna to be '"faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life'" (Rev 2:10). In a manner of speaking, Jesus cast his cares on God saying, "'Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit'" (Lk 23:46). These last two situations seem more desperate than normal, but they illustrate the importance of the spirit as opposed to the flesh. Jesus promised that '"the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out'" (Jn 6:37). Anxiety is worry, being overly concerned, or excessive preoccupation. How do you know in what way God will care for you (1Pe 5:7)? "He cares for those who trust in him" (Na 1:7 NIV). "Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken" (Ps 55:22). Jesus said,"'For whosoever will save his life shall lose it'" (Mt 16:25). "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones" (Psalm 116:15). But our culture equates losing with not winning, or worse yet, not surviving. However, Paul asks, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win" (1Co 9:24). Therefore consider Jesus saying "'whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it'" (Mt 16:25). Surviving to some means doing just about anything to succeed, but to Jesus, saving your life means deference to what he has done for you. This framework for guidance says "whatever you do . . . do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col 3:7) "heartily, as for the Lord rather than men" (:23) "all to the glory of God" (1Co 10:31).

Answers

You aren't worthless:

You aren't helpless:

You aren't hopeless:

Where to go for help: