People are often shocked to hear I struggle with clinical depression. One dear friend, when I told him that I was depressed, stared with mouth open and said “You?! Really?!”
Yeah. Me. Sure, I’ve seen many healed of all kinds of physical and mental disorders, including depression, but I am in the process of being healed of it myself. While I have battled it off and on throughout my childhood, things really got bad for me about a year ago.
What it Felt Like
Depression didn’t hit me all at once, though it certainly felt that way. Actually, it took me a long time to realize that things weren’t okay. The first signs began when I wasn’t able to engage with my wife and son emotionally. I would come home from a long day at work and just need to tune out the world. I would cook dinner and listen to a podcast or tv show; just something. Anything that would anesthetize my brain from the pain of being completely emotionally depleted.
It wasn’t long before I began to cancel meetings, claiming to be sick, when in reality I was just too sad to do anything. My arms and legs felt heavy, and when I could go to meetings I would spend a good 15 minutes crying in my car before I could work up the mental strength to go into my meeting. Sometimes waves of sadness would wash over me out of nowhere. I would be going about my day and overwhelming grief would grip my soul. I became irritable and short with people I love and I wasn’t able to sleep at night in spite of being exhausted all day long.
You would think I would have figured out by this point that I was depressed, but you’d be wrong. I thought I was just tired, and I would snap out of it eventually. “I just need to be stronger,” I told myself. “I’m really not that busy. Other people are way busier than I am. I don’t deserve to be depressed. I just need to soldier on, and I’ll come out of it.”
Things became very real for me when after a particularly eventful trip to Chicago with the students in my ministry, I came home and couldn’t get off the floor. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t look people in the face, and I couldn’t even tell my wife what I was feeling because I just burst into sobs. It was at this point that I realized something was definitely wrong.
What is this?
“Am I being spiritually attacked?” I asked myself. “Maybe this is a neurochemical issue? Have I just not been taking care of myself emotionally?” The answer to all of the above questions was of course, yes. A young lady in our ministry was dramatically delivered of several demons just two days before I crashed. I hadn’t been doing anything to refuel emotionally because even when I wasn’t working I was worried about the ministry. I remember waking up from a dead sleep in a panic thinking “we need to be doing more outreach!” All of the pressure I put on myself to have a successful ministry began to wear on me. My trust wasn’t in the power of God, it was in my own wisdom and efforts, and the load was too much for me to bear.
If the enemy is going to try to take you out, he is going to wait and attack when you are weak, and I provided an excellent opportunity for him to try to take me out. After months of running on empty, years of believing the lies that everything rested on my shoulders, several months of refusing to take time to refresh, having a genetic predisposition to depression, and having a rather dramatic demonic encounter during an incredibly taxing ministry excursion, I was on the edge of a cliff and the devil hardly had to push.
Is Depression Spiritual or Neurological?
Some people view depression as a weakness of the soul. I was one of those people. Even though I have a degree in psychology, when I first started to feel feelings of depression, I instinctively decided that I could will my way out of it. I thought I simply needed to be stronger, rest more, or believe something different and I would be fixed. I expected to just “snap out of it” but I just couldn’t.
The common understanding of depression is that it is a disorder involving neurotransmitters called serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that your body naturally produces and releases at the places when your neurons connect called synapses. One of the problems that can cause depression is when one neuron releases serotonin into the synapse, but then takes it back before the next neuron and receive it. To solve this problem, doctors often prescribe Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), also known as anti-depressants. These drugs actually block neurons from being able to take back serotonin before the connecting neuron can receive it. There are other versions of this drug that also interact with norepinephrine. These drugs have been amazingly successful in treating depressive disorders.
Now therapy, exercise, and vitamin have also all been very effective in treating depression in many cases. This adds to some of the mystery for me, because if depression were purely neurological, how could talk therapy be an effective treatment? This leads me to believe that what we call depression is actually a symptom that could be a result of several different problems.
As a Christian who believes that there is such a thing as a soul, Heaven, Hell, angels, and demons, I do believe there could be causes for mental and emotional disorders that transcend the physical. People are more than their meat. That means that sometimes there could actually be a spiritual cause for depression. While someone with a naturalist perspective may scoff at me for believing in such unscientific nonsense, I have too much experience with the supernatural and too many philosophical problems with naturalism to accept a purely naturalistic worldview. It is entirely possible that the source of some people’s depression could be supernatural, but it is not necessarily so, and automatically assuming that the source of your’s or anyone else’s depression is spiritual can actually prevent you from finding freedom.
A Misunderstanding About The Soul
When I finally crashed and was forced to admit that I wasn’t well emotionally, I drove 5 hours down to my parent’s house and stayed there for a few days in order to clear my head. My wife and son stayed with my in-laws while I attempted to get my head on straight. The day after I arrived at my parent’s house, my dad brought me to a walk-in clinic. He told me to be honest with the doctor, and ask for some medication. While I was hesitant, I decided I would do it because anything was better than how I was feeling.
During my time of recovery, I was privileged to have spoken with a few spiritual heroes of mine who had struggled with depression themselves. These were people who had active prayer lives, studied the word, and walked in the power of the Holy Spirit. The revelation that these men whom I held in such high esteem had times of depression and some were currently on medication for it told me two things:
- Depression is not a reflection on your spiritual vitality.
- Taking antidepressants doesn’t mean you don’t have faith in God to deliver you.
There is an attitude among many (I used to be counted among this number) that struggling with depression or requiring antidepressants meant you were weak in your faith. I used to think that if you took medication, you were trying to use drugs to combat a spiritual problem. The only issue is that depression isn’t always spiritual.
We would never reprimand a diabetic for taking insulin, we would never scold someone with a broken arm for wearing a cast, and we shouldn’t stigmatize people who have depression and need antidepressants. Yes, it is true that God can heal people who are depressed. In fact, He wants to! I do believe that some depression can be spiritual or merely emotional in nature. But, if we treat a neurological malady as though it is simply spiritual, we can prevent others and ourselves from finding help.
Remember when Elijah asked God to kill him right after his most dramatic victory? (See 1 Kings 19:1-14.) Remember when Jeremiah cursed the day he was born? (See Jeremiah 20:14.) How about the psalmist who said; “Why so downcast, oh my soul, why so disturbed within me?” (See Psalm 42-43.) What about the time Jesus was so stressed out that He actually sweat drops of blood? (See Luke 22:44.)
Sometimes I have felt guilty for being depressed. I felt like I was mentally or spiritually weak. That is nonsense. While none of these people had access to mental health professionals, I’m convinced King David needed one. If you are feeling guilty for feeling depressed, you need to shake that off. It isn’t biblical, it isn’t right, and you should never feel guilty for seeking help.
I am currently on antidepressants and I see people healed regularly. God uses me in words of knowledge, healing, prophecy, intercession, and I am privileged to lead people to Jesus quite often. I have a vibrant and active walk with God, but I still need antidepressants. Listen, God loves you, and His love and acceptance of you are not dependant on whether or not you are depressed, anxious, suicidal, or anything else. The Bible says this:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39
What You Can Do:
Here are some practical steps you should take if you’re struggling with depression:
See a Counselor
There are plenty of Christian counselors today who are excellent at helping you identify what may be causing your depression. They can also give you practical strategies for overcoming some of the daily pressures that may be contributing to your depression. While they cost money, your emotional, relational, and spiritual health is worth the investment.
See a Doctor
If you are clinically depressed, you should seek medical help. Medication may not completely solve your problems, but it will certainly go a long way in helping get you back on your feet. They will help you think clearly enough to actually begin to solve some of the problems which may be causing your depression. While it may take a few tries to get the right medication and dosage for you, you shouldn’t feel guilty condemned, or unspiritual for seeking medical help, particularly if the form of depression you are dealing with is neurochemical in nature.
God is the healer. His will is for you to prosper even as your soul prospers. (See 3 John 1:2.) I have seen many, many people delivered from depression be receiving prayer, or by crying out to God for themselves. Whether your depression is biological, psychological, or spiritual, Jesus is able to provide for you. You can and you should seek both medical help as well as healing from the hand of Jesus.
Practice Thanksgiving and Praise
Two spiritual disciplines which I have found to be powerfully effective have been thanksgiving and praise. It is incredibly hard for a depressed person to be thankful for anything because the distorted lens of depression allows you to only see the negative. As we begin to be thankful to God for every blessing in our lives, we begin to fight against depression’s mind control. Thanksgiving causes us to be aware of the goodness of God and that leads us to praise.
Praise is a declaration of the characters and attributes of God. As we declare who God is over our depression it begins to shrivel in the light of His glory. The psalmist saw praise as the antidote to depression:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
Isaiah prophesies that God’s answer to a spirit of despair is a “garment of praise”. (See Isaiah 61:3.) If we are to through off depression, we need to change the way we think, and thanksgiving and praise are two practical and powerful ways to transform our thinking.
May God bless you.
*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog post are my own, and they cannot replace the advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a trained medical professional. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.*