Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Christians and Depression

Fr. Dale Matson
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12

Depression has been called the common cold of mental health. It is true in the respect that it is common and can also be contagious but it is much more severe than a common cold. It is an isolating, deep, seemingly hopeless hole of despair. It is a place where a broken shoelace in the morning can destroy an entire day. It is a place with no pleasure and no more tears to shed. It can appear normally as a part of grief or comingled with anxiety. Depression has been described as a behavior disorder, a cognitive disorder, a family systems disorder and a neurotransmitter imbalance.
I want to offer another way for folks to consider why endogenous (non reactive) depression is seemingly so intractable yet point to a hopeful understanding and treatment. In some sense I see chronic (with acute episodes) depression as an identity disorder. It is as if people who suffer from chronic depression no longer can distinguish themselves from their disorder. It is as if they would have to give up who they know themselves to be if their depression was removed. They would not know who they were any longer. In The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis makes an insightful observation. “The question is whether she is a grumbler or a grumble. If there is a real woman, even the trace of one-still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again.” From a Christian perspective this means to go to the cross with Christ not to destroy oneself. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20). And we hear also from Paul in Romans “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (6:6). I think that is why a truly Christian approach could provide help. I mean by this, helping the individual to put on Christ as their new identity. This is something all Christians are asked to do. The life of a Christian is continually taking the old man to the cross or as Luther would say, celebrating our baptism daily by drowning the old man so that the new man might come forth. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4: 22-24). There is so much in Scripture that encourages us to put on the new person that is Christ. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2a) What kind of mind are we to have? Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 2:5). “… my friends keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8).
There is another additional side to addressing depression. Since depression can be isolating, Christians know that physically they reside in Christ’s body the church. Their brothers and sisters who may also have experienced depression are available to offer the comfort that they were comforted with. (2 Cor. 1:4). Spiritually they also reside in Christ. “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28a). Christ suffers with us and His church. The topic of depression fills volumes and treatment options are multifaceted with varying degrees of efficacy depending also on the individual. What I have attempted to say, that as Christians we all have an opportunity to seek and to find ourselves in Christ and He in us. For those with depression this is especially important. This is in addition to, not in lieu of other treatment options offered by your physician.
Christ is our true self and our only self. Listen to the life He offers us. It is a not a life without suffering but it can be a life of joy. Amen

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)


Clinical Depression symptoms said...

Depression can be very destabilizing experience in a person’s life. Battle with Depression is a long one where we lose more than we win.

People suffering depression feels guilty, worthless and has difficulty concentrating. They are unable to make decisions, have loss of appetite and lose or gain weight. Patients experience lack of energy, sleep difficulty. Physical symptoms such as slow movement or speech are also witness in person suffering depressive illness.

Rev. Mike Spreng said...

Hello Fr. Dale,

That is a good article on depression. I think that although depression does indeed have a biological aspect to it, the primary cause and cure has to do with the spiritual. I like the identity concept you drew. Without identity, people spiral.

Dale Matson said...

Rev. Mike,
If we only really, really understood Paul in Galatians 2:20

Sibyl said...

Fr. Matson, There is a typo in the third to last Scripture; it should be II Corinthians 1:3-4 (or 5).

It's one of my mainstays.

Also, I had to add a side note to the last paragraph where you say, 'listen to the life He offers us. Not knowing how to listen to the 'life' which didn't make sense to me, I added an expansion so it reads like this:

'Listen to Him, His Voice, His Word, and do it in order to build and hain His eternal and abundant and true Life in you.'

It's the 'do it' part that is hardest for me.

All blessings to you and your family.


Dale Matson said...

I have corrected it.