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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Results from my Survey About Depression--with Advice and Hope

Statistics tell us that depression affects one in five adults every year. I asked my social media friends to participate in a survey about depression. Twenty-four responded. Thank you to everyone who answered!

Why did I choose this topic? Because, it is part of many people’s lives. I believe, also, that depression is one of the least-understood problems in the church. 

First, I want to share my own experience. I’ve been depressed twice in my life. Once was as a young woman, when I was under extreme pressure and stress. The other was just after my beautiful baby was born. I woke up every morning with negative thoughts. I hated everyone and every thing. At the same time, I thought I was going crazy. I had a loving husband, I'd had a good, natural birth, a beautiful new baby, was feeling better post partum than with our first child, etc. We lived in a nice apartment and were active and happy … only I was not happy! I woke up with a nasty attitude every single day. I didn’t like anyone! I was nuts-o!

At the same time, I was suffering from asthma many evenings. (When I was pregnant, I thought my trouble with breathing was because the baby was big and I carried him high.) I would sit up and read at night when I couldn’t breathe. One of those nights, I was reading a back issue of Reader’s Digest, and lo and behold, there was an article about baby blues. I had no idea such a thing existed! (Why don’t they warn mothers-to-be?) It said that it usually lasts three or four weeks, and to wait to see if the chemical imbalance goes away. If not, see your doctor. Whew! I thought. I just have to wait this out. (I was almost at the three-week point then.) So, I did, and in a week, sure enough, I felt like myself again—happy to be alive and in the world.

Since my own experiences, I’ve known a lot of people with different kinds of depression. Two of my friends had cyclical (seasonal) depression every year. When the days got shorter, they slipped down into it.  Several had chemical imbalances. All they needed was a doctor’s help. Several felt depressed after breaking up with boyfriends. Some went though a time of depression after the loss of a loved one. Others were going through hormonal changes (baby blues, pregnancy, menopause). Still others were surprised when they woke up and suddenly had horrible thoughts and feelings.

Let’s look at the survey results and then we’ll draw some final conclusions.

Q. At what age did you first experience depression?
A. 0-15  14%
     16-25  32%
     25-35  32%
     over 35  21%

Q. Do you know (or suspect) the root cause of your depression? (Check all that apply.)
A. the death of a loved one  7%
     financial problems  4%
     emotional trauma (such as a break-up, personal problems, etc.)  64%
     stress  50%
     change of seasons/weather  15%
     baby blues  18%
     hormonal issues  36%
     I have no idea what triggered it.  11%

Q. Did you feel like you were sinking into a black hole or were hopeless?
A. Yes.  86%
     No.  14%

Q. Did your depression affect your ability to function in normal life? (Check all that apply.)
A. I didn’t want to get out of bed.  43%
     I was very emotional.  61%
     I lost interest in eating.  18%
     I felt guilty for everything I had ever done wrong.  54%
     I thought I was going crazy!  46%
     I wanted to hole up in my house and never leave.  39%
     I actually thought of suicide.  54%

Q. Did you get help? (Check any that apply to you.)
A. My family was very supportive.  44%
     I cried out to God.  84%
     I went to/got in touch with a doctor.  36%
     I got counseling.  32%

Q. Did you find out you had …?
A. cyclical depression  11%
     baby blues  4%
     depression due to a sad event  21%
     clinical depression (chemical problem in the brain)  7%
     other  57%

Q. Have you been able to beat depression?
A. Yes, it was only for a short time.  30%
     Yes, with a change of diet and exercise.  15%
     Yes, with the help of my doctor and a drug.  11%
     Yes, with counseling.  15%
     No, I am depressed a lot of the time.  7%
     No, it comes back every year at the same time.  7%
     No, and I don’t know what to do.  4%
     No.  11%

Q. If you have beaten depression, are there any words of advice you would give to others? (Please check all that you would agree with, and comment, if you like.)
A. See your doctor.  33%
     Look for a root cause or trigger.  67%
     Get up and do normal things, even when you don’t feel like it.  63%

Comments and advice: 
  • “Depression can be spiritual and physical. I needed medicine to break the physical cycle. But even though I still feel the depression in the back of my mind often, I rely on God to help me fight.”
  • “Talking about how you feel and trying to sort out why you feel that way with someone who can truly counsel you I think is a key to understanding what's happening and not feel even more guilty or depressed. Taking measures and forcing yourself to go on with life each day and shutting off negative thoughts is very important. Whenever negative and depressed thoughts come back, it's important to maybe understand why, but most of all to fight them off through prayer and spending time in God's Word. Also, keeping busy and maintaining a balanced life (food, sleep, exercise) are very important.”
  • “Do not focus on yourself (once any trauma has passed). If there has been recent trauma (emotional, physical, etc.), don't be hard on yourself, but surround yourself with people who will help you get past the pain. If nothing else, just listen to truth if you can't read. Go outside (weather permitting). Once some months have passed, don't be surprised if you feel low again. Do something for someone else. Even write a nice note, email, or text. A thank you note is always good. It keeps you focused on what to be thankful for while thinking of someone else. Counseling does help. So, does a mentor to go on walks with, or your favorite coffee shop, or whatever other activity you like. And lastly, diet does help! Stay away from sugar, packaged junk, or fast foods. Try to eat some cozy, healthy foods like your favorite soup or a good protein-filled meal. Take vitamin D3! Whenever I'm low, my vitamin D always tests low. I hope that helps.”
  • “Spend lots of time with the Lord. Read the Word and obey. This ultimately brought me out of depression.”
  • “One of the biggest ah-ha moments of my life was when I read a comment by Kay Arthur, that many depressed people were lazy in their thinking; they allowed their minds to think whatever it wanted. No way! I argued. But the Holy Spirit convicted me, and now whenever I struggle with depression, my first prayer is that the Holy Spirit would help me control my thoughts. That has helped me like no other!”
  • “A good counselor who helps you set goals is a huge help. Bible verses help.”
  • “My depression was medicinally and medically induced. I was seriously injured and heavily medicated with powerful pain medications. I went to my doctor and changed my medicines.”
  • “Talk to people and let them show their love to you. Don't isolate yourself. You are not alone.”
  • “As a young, unsaved teenager, I just went through my depression. Nobody really knew. After I got saved as a teenager, my whole life changed. As a young mother there were some struggles. Looking back, I'd tell myself to eat right, exercise, use a supplement to balance my tired body, and seek someone to talk with—including my husband. Later, I exercised, lost weight, ate better, took a supplement, talked with family and friends, had a prayer support system, rested if needed to, and kept close to the Lord.”
  • “Confront the people you're upset with and let them know how you feel and that you forgive them, even if you know that it will not be received. Get it open about out so that you don't have to live with it, even if they choose to continue.”
  • “For me it’s not a case of beating it. And, it never will be. It’s much more controlling it and being aware of triggers/causes. Then, taking steps (diet, exercise, making sure I’m in my Bible, paying attention to my hormones). The spiritual is number one, then physical.”
  • “Find someone to talk with. Find support, and never stop fighting.”

What have we learned?
  • Depression is common. Many people suffer depression at some time in their lives.
  • It’s real, and it can be dangerous—especially if someone has suicidal thoughts (which was true in over half of the people who responded to my survey.)
  • Depression is caused by various triggers and sources.
  • Being susceptible to depression doesn’t mean you can’t lead a normal, productive life.

From my research, clinical depression can be caused by chemical problems in the brain, thyroid issues, and adrenal gland problems. As one of my participants shared, it can also be drug-induced. Hormones have a lot to do with depression in women.

Triggers like loss, stress, and traumas may cause depression. It can also be hereditary—a disposition towards depression passed down through the family.

Also, there’s depression that just comes on. No one knows why. It just happens. The person sinks into a dark place and feels he is hopeless and out of control. He may feel guilty, sad, or be overly emotional.

Did you know that several Bible characters suffered from deep depression?
  • Hannah. Her husband’s other wife provoked Hannah, therefore she wept, and did not eat. Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons? So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore (1 Samuel 1:7b-10).
  • Saul. And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him (1 Samuel 16:23).
  • Elijah. Elijah fled from Jezebel after the biggest victory in his life. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers (1 Kings 19:4).
  • Job. Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul; Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures; Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in? For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters. For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me (Job 3:20-25).
  • David. Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long? Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake. For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks? I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies (Psalm 6:2-7).
  • Jonah. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live (Jonah 4:1-3).

Did you know that historical Christian leaders also suffered from it? I'll name two that come to mind.
  • Martin Luther, as legend has it, allegedly threw an inkwell at the devil one night. Most people don’t believe the famous ink stain was original, but it’s a fact that Luther was plagued by oppression—or depression—much of his life.
  • Charles Spurgeon often suffered from depression. In his book for preachers, Lectures to My Students, I remember reading how a friend would take him to a cabin in the country so that Spurgeon could get over his “fit.” Sometimes, it took several weeks. An excellent article on Spurgeon’s depression (with his own quotes) can be read here 

Have you ever been depressed? Lots of people understand.

Are you depressed now? Get help. Here’s how: 
  1. If you feel like you are in a deep hole, don’t wait. Visit your doctor. Tell him about your symptoms and feelings. He will be able to diagnose what kind of help you need. It might mean a quick fix (medicine) to get you over a “hump” or it might mean you need counseling or long-term help. He truly will be able to help you distinguish how to treat your problem.
  2. Make sure you have someone you can talk to. This can be a counselor or a friend who will listen and not judge or condemn. If you feel suicidal, have someone stay with you. Talk to that person anytime you need to. Christian counselors can really help you.
  3. Get out of the house. Walk. Get healthy by eating good food. One of the people who took my survey recommends getting enough Vitamin D3.
  4. Find passages in Scripture that speak to your particular need. Are you fearful? Have you recently lost a loved one or had a break-up? Do you need assurance that Jesus is always there for you? Write out these passages on note cards and carry them around with you. When you dwell on God’s Word, your mind is in the right place.
  5. Pray. The Bible says we can Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us (Psalm 62:8). Jesus truly understands. For we have not an high priest (Jesus) which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
  6. Do you know Jesus? The Bible says, For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).

The LORD is nigh (near) unto them that are of a broken heart;
and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18).

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