Several of my recent posts have centered on the topic of depression because depression is expected to be our greatest epidemic by 2020. Frankly, I don’t think we discuss it enough—especially in the church. It’s a topic I believe we need to have more dialogue about.
As a mental health professional, and someone who has journeyed through the valley of depression and is now on the other side, I’m willing to raise my hand and say, “Let’s talk.” By increasing our discussion of this topic, I believe it helps tear down some of the stigma and arrive at some answers.
With the more frequent conversation here, on social media, and in my office, I’ve had more people recently pull me aside and ask, “What is depression? I think I might struggle, but I’m not really sure.” That’s not so unusual. Many patients come into my private practice, struggling with depression, but they don’t realize it until I diagnose it and tell them.
That’s in large part because depression presents differently for everyone. There is no one size fits all for depression symptoms. It presents differently for different ages, different genders, and different races, so that contributes to some of the difficulty understanding whether or not you struggle with depression.
When I wrote my book, “Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression,” I started by asking a few questions, just to get people to start considering whether or not this was something they struggled with.
Are you struggling with depression?
“Do you ever look around and it seems that the whole world is laughing but you?”
“Have you ever gone to bed one night, and seemingly woken up the next morning to find that your joy, or motivation, or enthusiasm just disappeared?”
“Do you ever hear others speak of joy and think, ‘I don’t have any idea what joy feels like’?”
“Does it ever feel like you live in a state of constant overwhelm?”
“Do the simplest of tasks, like brushing your teeth, taking your vitamins, or walking your dog, require more effort than you can even muster?”
“Would you, or those close to you consider you to be a ‘glass half-empty’ kind of person?”
If you answered yes to any one of those questions, it does not necessarily mean you are depressed, but it might suggest that something is going on that we need to address.
Especially as we move into the winter months, it’s important that we are aware of how we respond. The winter months can lead to an increased likelihood of depression in some cases, something we call “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” I’m originally from Michigan, where many experience seasonal affective disorder when the sun doesn’t shine as much as it does in the southern states. I was prone to struggling, as was my mother, during Michigan’s long winters.
Depression signs and symptoms
To explore this a little further, let’s take a couple minutes to discuss some of the common signs and symptoms of depression:
-Feeling sad, down, or blue
-Feeling numb, not really having any feeling
-Feeling irritable or agitated
-Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness
-Changes in appetite--eating too much, eating too little, or eating the wrong kinds of food
-Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
-Changes in sleep patterns—either sleeping too much or sleeping too little or never feeling rested
-Changes in social activities—not wanting to do things with people like we used to or decreased interest in previous activities we used to enjoy
-Unexplained illnesses or illnesses that don’t seem to get better
-Crying for no reason
-Thoughts of suicide
You don’t have to have all of these symptoms in order to be depressed. In fact, rarely will anyone possess all of these symptoms at one time. But if you have experienced more than a couple of these symptoms for more than a couple weeks at a time, there is a strong likelihood that you have suffered from some degree of depression.
It’s also important to note that the symptoms will vary for each individual. How one person experiences depression can be completely different from how another person experiences it. But if you find yourself reading those signs and symptoms, and can identify with three or four of those, and they’ve lasted more than a couple weeks, I’d suggest you schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule out any medical diagnoses which could contribute to signs and symptoms of depression.
Resources for help, hope and healing for depression
I’d also recommend you pick up a copy of my book, “Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression” as well as a copy of the companion “Hope Prevails Bible Study”, both of which were written with YOU in mind, as a resource for all those who are struggling and couldn’t make it into my office. In those two books are my greatest professional knowledge and personal experience to guide you toward help, hope, and healing for depression.
What I really want you to hear, is that if you identified with those signs and symptoms, either for yourself or for someone you love, know that there is no shame in suffering from depression. There is no more shame in suffering from depression than there is in being diagnosed with allergies or diabetes. And the good news is that Scripture says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). God doesn’t look at you and think less of you because you’re depressed. Quite the opposite in fact. Scripture says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
End the stigma: there’s no shame in depression
There is no shame in depression. Shame comes from the enemy of our soul. And there’s no reason to hide. God already knows what you’re struggling with and He wants to heal you and give you hope.
I’ve gone through it. I, too, experienced shame. I was the doctor who had been treating patients for over 20 years, when I suffered through the dark night of my soul. I thought I was supposed to be able to prevent that from happening to me, and to have all the answers. Sometimes experience is a very valuable teacher. I understand what depression is, how it presents, what it feels like, and how to treat it much better now that I’ve personally experienced it.
But during those dark days, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I thought, “What if my patients knew?” “What if my colleagues knew?” “What if my referral sources knew?” But that worry and fear was from a lie from the enemy. What I now know is that since I’ve gone through it, I’m a better doctor! Now I’m a better friend. Now I make a better colleague. Because now that I’ve gone through it, I understand!
Now I’ve got more empathy, and even more compassion. Now when someone says that they are struggling in the pit of depression, I can enter into the dialogue and say, “I’ve been there. Me too. I understand.” Then we can have an honest discussion because I can come to it from a place of knowing and understanding. If you are struggling today, remember, there is no shame in that. There is no shame in the fact that you need help. We ALL need help with things from time to time. And that’s okay.
The truth is, help and hope are both available. God wants to be your biggest source of help. And with Him, #HopePrevails!
Despite whatever it is that you are going through today, whether it’s depression or something else, I want you to know that the God of all hope is still on His throne. He says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for a future and a hope.”
So whether you are going through depression today, or anxiety, or relationship difficulty, or a health crisis, or whatever it is, He knows the plans He has for you, and they are good. He’s going to get you through this!
Know that you are dearly loved, and I am praying you have a hope-filled day!