Quite a few years ago the phone rang in my office, but I refused to answer it. I had “hit the wall.” In the space of one year, I lost my mentor, my assistant left, my father died, we began home schooling, and we lost a child before it was born. Eventually, I didn’t want to answer the phone - I could not face another problem or loss! Whether it was emotional burnout or depression, it all felt the same to me.
Recently I was asked to talk to a family whose teenager was suicidal. “Covid separation” from friends and his future hopes, had driven the boy to despair. Depression is the major cause of disability in the world and the leading cause of suicide.i It is experienced mostly by people over forty, but anyone can feel depressed in a very stressful climate. To feel depressed is to be human. Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, dejection, and worry have been experienced throughout the ages and the earliest book in the Bible records the acute depression of a man called Job. He lost his possessions, his children, and the understanding he should have got from his friends.
Not all depression is equal. There is a continuum of severity of depression, from depression brought on by stressful situations all the way to clinical depression (severe depressive disorder) which can be caused by things like misfunctioning neurotransmitters, organic or hormonal imbalance. People who experience this are not able to respond positively to parties, picnics or being told to cheer up. Anyone in this situation and anyone suicidal should see a doctor and receive treatment.
However, in the covid era, nearly everyone will experience some situational depression stemming from emotional and mental stress. Depression can also be caused by the death of a friend, or just losing someone or something important to us. It can also be brought on by a blow to our sense of value, fatigue or as the result of a traumatic event such as childbirth, divorce, a serious accident or retirement. Most people who experience situational depression begin to have symptoms within 90 days of the triggering event.ii
Depression can affect us in different ways. Some sufferers may look sad, and feel empty, pessimistic, rejected and unloved. Their eating and sleeping can be affected and some find it hard to sit still. Sometimes they have episodes of crying and may withdraw from activities and sadly it can be accompanied by suicidal thoughts.
Over the years I have had young people on my doorstep who tried to over-dose and others who tried to leap from my car on the way to the hospital. These were extreme situations of depression but is there anything we can do to help ourselves with the early signs of depression. Bestselling author and psychologist Dr Minrith of Minrith clinic says, “While depression is not something we choose, it is something that we must choose to deal with.”iii The doctor writes that depression is not caused by the initial problem, but more by our response and the way we think about our problems. He believes that just doing three things, will enable any person to reduce depression and live a better life.
Others: His first suggestion is to build positive relationships with others. He says that the way to avoid waking up depressed, is first to remove all resentment or grudges against others daily. He found that the most common root condition that predisposes people to all types of depression, is pent up anger toward themselves or toward others. To feel angry is not wrong but if we have got a “thing” about a parent, a sibling or someone else we must forgive them. Refuse family feuds and do your best to resolve it. Building positive relationships means focused time with your spouse and children and creating balance in your work/home life. You need to earn sufficient money for your family, but your family needs you a thousand times more than they need any extra money. Continue daily routines regardless of your feelings and even doing something good for another person could help you feel a little better. Take the initiative to spend time each week with people that leave you feeling better not worse. Jesus in his darkest hours chose some close friends to be with him. “Taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee” and opening His soul to them, said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:37-38). He shared with them his feelings and asked for their support in prayer and proximity.
Ourselves: Secondly, make sure that we are not angry at ourselves. Failure is part of being human too. Thankfully if we feel guilty, God forgives us when we ask Him. But there is also a false guilt and shame that can come from the judgments of significant people in our lives, like parents or partners. We need to refuse the feeling that we do not measure up to people’s expectations and know that our value comes from our Creator, not from what people think. When we feel overwhelmed with the stress in our lives, we need to admit it to friends and arrange for some time of respite. I know for me that a quiet week in the country helped restore my soul a lot. Eating healthy food and exercise is helpful, as is reprogramming our mind, so it doesn’t keep playing a loop of negative thoughts.
God: Lastly, Dr Minrith wrote that many people find inner strength from God. Some people may want to begin or renew their relationship with Him. Talk to Him each day, as an understanding Father who wants to help you in your struggles. Be thankful for any blessings and ask Him for patience and strength in your battles. In Gethsemane Jesus Himself faced troubles that He never wanted but He found a way through. He shared with His trusted friends and asked them to watch and pray with Him. As He battled the prospect of dying on the cross for us, He asked His Father if there was any other way to accomplish our salvation. There was no other way to change His situation, so in the end He had to trust in the love of God and in God’s power to bring hm through.
I know that when people are facing a job loss, financial stress or relationship breakdowns, writing or reading a three-step article is inadequate, but if it helps us to think about who we can talk to or to make a plan to reach out for help, it is worth both writing and reading. In this world difficulties will be unavoidable and the fight for mental health is real but if we can do some of these things, we may be able to do just a little better in the battle.
If you need help, please ring
Depression helpline: 0800111757
Secondly, make sure that we are not angry at ourselves.
Jim Shaw is a retired minister of the New Life Church in Manurewa, where he served for 30 years. A keen writer of many articles on issues of the day, he has a BA in Theology and MA in Biblical Studies.