Thoughts for the Unbelieving (re: depression)

(Please click on the Depression Resources tab on the top of this page for more info useful for dealing with depression.)

I assume there are physiological, emotional, and spiritual causes and effects involved in depression, and each case might be a little different. I do agree that many people are over-medicated and under-counselled. I believe that it will be hard to overcome any problem without the LORD. But for the atheists out there, by that I mean depression atheists, here are some thoughts.

You know what? Maybe some are just lazy and weak-willed. Any sin is addictive. Telling someone to get up and get over it without additional help/treatment would not be acceptable for someone addicted to nicotine or heroin and is unkind. I believe that addiction of thoughts, attitudes, and emotions are even more difficult to overcome because they are internal and not as easily noticeable, and sometimes not even shunned by regular society, i.e. pride. But I also accept biological causes are part of the problem.

Why is it so hard to believe in biochemical causes for depression?

  • If someone suffers a physical trauma–falling off a ladder or being in a car accident–it is common for some pain to linger on for the rest of the person’s life. Why would it be different for those who suffer emotional trauma?
  • As the body ages, things start breaking down, don’t work as well, malfunction, etc. Why should it be any different for the mind? And even young people get physical diseases.
  • Are the body and soul the only things affected by the Adam’s fall? Is this world fallen and broken except for our minds and emotions? Christians suffer with cancer and diabetes. Why is it wrong or a surprise that they also suffer from Mental/Emotional problems?
  • Everyone accepts Alzheimers as a malfunctioning of the brain even though we can’t prove the cause. Thyroid problems can lead to symptoms similar to Mental Illness. A woman’s hormones can have a great effect on her mood. (I hope that is generally accepted and won’t get me in trouble.) Anyway, people generally accept that a malfunctioning of the biological processes can affect the mind/mood EXCEPT for depression. Why can’t we be consistent?

Those suffering from depression need sensitivity, tenderness. Some will respond to straightforward, “telling like it is”, frankness; others will be crushed by that attitude. No matter what you believe about the causes: Be kind, Be compassionate, Be careful. Don’t try to diagnose, just listen, encourage, don’t give up even when frustrated.

I don’t have anything more than anecdotal evidence. But I assume the majority of those who don’t understand and don’t “believe” in depression, are ones whose lives and families have not been affected by it. Their opinions are based on some knowledge but no experience. Maybe some have experienced the situational kind (result of death, divorce, illness, etc.) and improved, and therefore, think they can relate to someone with chronic, long-term depression.

Luke 12:48 “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (NIV)

Does this verse teach different expectations? Is it honest exegesis to infer that “less” is expected from others? God expects more from some than others?? Is that okay? That sure would shake up our American Ideal of personal and individual freedom/power to accomplish anything and everything. We are big on equality–Affirmative Action, everyone can be president, equal opportunities. Often the most judgmental are ones who can’t sympathize and are assuming that, “If I can do it, anyone can.” I am not so sure that is a universally true statement. Of course, I am judging the judgmental. 🙂

Should we expect someone raised in poverty, dysfunction, etc. who is converted as an adult with a lot of baggage to mature in the same way-at the same rate-that one raised in a healthy Christian home would? I suggest that wisdom, love, and compassion require us to be understanding and change our expectations at least a little.

Coping with Depression by Ortberg and Tan is very helpful in discussing a variety of causes and the book is written from a Christian perspective.

Another useful book for ministers and counseling is, Healing for Damaged Emotions by David A. Seamands.

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