I am no stranger to depression and I’m no expert either. But I have learned a few things in my own struggle out of the darkness that might help you or someone you love who is hurting. Depression is more common than we realize because many people hide it.
Depression affects over 18 million adults (one in ten) in any given year and is the primary reason why someone dies of suicide about every 12 minutes. If my story can help even one of these fellow sufferers, then it is worth sharing.
When I’m struggling to keep my mental health on the rails, it’s difficult to remember all the life hacks I’ve learned to support healthy thinking and feeling. I need something that’s easy to remember when my mind starts spinning off into negative spaces and my heart follows.
Much like my life hack for pursuing P.E.A.C.E. when anxiety strikes, I also have a way to remember how to hold on to my H.O.P.E.S. when discouragement or depression threatens to sink me.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical or mental health professional. I write and speak about depression from the perspective of a fellow sufferer, patient, student, and overcomer. Nothing I say here or anywhere else should be construed as medical advice. You need to speak frankly with your own health care professional for personalized advice. If your doctor won’t listen to you, find one that will. Sadly, this is way too common.
Help is available.
Before I go any further, I cannot emphasize enough the necessity of seeking help if you or someone you know is severely depressed and/or contemplating suicide. This is not something to mess around with or try to fix on your own. Please get help now before it’s too late!
Somebody cares. You’re not alone.
Speak with a counselor today.
Before I jump into three ways to seek help, I must point out that the most complete source of help is the one who made us, loves us unconditionally, and knows all things. We should always go to God first when we need help.
That said, God often helps us through other people. When I began to drag myself out of the pit of despair I slid into after my son’s death, I realized that my silent prayers to God by myself were not enough.
Please hear me. God is unequivocally all-sufficient. He can make all our problems disappear with a snap of his fingers. But often he has something far better in mind for us than just vaporizing our struggles. He wants to walk with us through the journey of fighting our giants so that we can grow stronger in the struggle and find purpose in our pain.
I have heard so many pastors preach that “a pill won’t fix everything”, implying that prayer alone will rescue us from depression. It’s true that all ultimate salvation and redemption is only found in Jesus, but that approach to coping with life’s tragedies and doesn’t fully acknowledge or validate the fact that many of us have endured trauma that we can’t work through alone. We need a loving and supportive community of family, friends, and professionals to help us and these too are gifts from God.
When we are staggering under the weight of a depressed heart, we must seek divine intervention from God early and often. In addition, we also need to take advantage of the many resources he has gifted to us so that we can be heard, be helped, and be healed. Let’s talk about those.
In order to be free from the nasty grip of depression and hold on to hope, we must allow ourselves to give voice to the dark and desperate thoughts and feelings rattling around inside of us. Dark things always shrink when they are exposed to the light.
Here are 3 ways you can be heard in the midst of your pain.
Don’t worry about “saying the right thing”. God already knows your heart (Jeremiah 17:10), the Holy Spirit interprets your groans (Romans 8:26), and Jesus intercedes for you (Romans 8:34). You have the whole Trinity helping you pray.
Having the “right words” is overrated. Crying totally counts as prayer when we are flinging our drowning hearts desperately on the shore of God’s grace.
The people who know and love you best and unconditionally can be huge allies in your battle against the darkness. Personally, I did not take advantage of this fact because I hid my struggle even from those closest to me and I regret that.
However, keep in mind that depending on the situation, friends and family may actually be contributors to your baggage or faltering attitude. It may be their own clouded perceptions and unresolved trauma that aggravates your own. So choose wisely who you entrust your story to, but don’t keep it to yourself as I did. That significantly delayed my healing.
These people can provide insightful Biblical wisdom & powerful prayer. However, they are usually not licensed professional counselors (we’ll get to that in a minute). If they have been leading people in the church for a number of years, they are probably experienced with human brokenness in many of its forms and usually have a shepherd’s heart for the flock of God. Typically, they can direct you to resources such as Christian counselors in your area, mentors/buddies to connect within the church family, or others who have walked a similar journey.
In addition to God’s ever-present help, I cannot overemphasize the value of Capable and Compassionate Christian counseling. All four of those words are important and I will tell you why.
The world is full of well-meaning Christians who may have sound Biblical knowledge with minimal and inadequate understanding of human behavioral science. Theology and psychology are not synonymous. When interpreted correctly, they are both in perfect harmony with one another (as are theology and any science).
I already shared how Biblically trained people are necessary, but if you are suffering from any form of depression, you may need more help than they alone are able to give.
When I finally decided to seek professional counseling, I researched my options carefully and chose a man who was an ex-pastor and trained psychologist. I thought he would be perfect to help me because a lot of my mental anguish was generated by the age-old question, “Why does a loving and powerful God allow suffering?”
I had two sessions with the counselor and he did most of the talking, Sunday-school-lesson style. He hadn’t even heard my heart and he dismissed me saying that he couldn’t help me. It turns out that the “perfect” combination of knowledge in the Bible and psychology means squat if the counselor is not even willing to listen with compassion.
After this stinging “failed” attempt at seeking help, it took me a long time to regain my courage to try again with someone new. Don’t give up! Finding the right counselor for you is critically important. Keep trying until you connect with the person you need.Finding the right mental health professional FOR YOU is critically important. Don't give up! Keep trying until you connect with the person you need. #mentalhealthawareness #suicideprevention Click To Tweet
Seek help from a Biblically-knowledgeable counselor. Psychology without a firm grounding in Scripture leads to all kinds of gibberish and unhelpful, sometimes downright bizarre, theories and practices. As a student of behavioral science and counseling myself, I’ve studied it and it’s scary.
God created us. He knows how we operate best. Trust the owner’s manual. If counsel you receive doesn’t align with Scripture, trash it.
We also cannot overlook the importance of prayer in uncovering and breaking spiritual bondage. Never go to a counselor who doesn’t believe in the power of prayer in Jesus’ name. The power of their own name or degrees is ultimately powerless to rescue you from the pit of depression and raise you to an eternal life of meaning and everlasting fulfillment.
When we embrace Christian theology as stated in the Bible, we equip ourselves to adopt a grace-based approach to life’s many challenges. This is the path to recovery, healing, and wholeness.
When you experience the non-judgemental grace of a compassionate listener it is invaluable but it’s only the start. In order to get fully unstuck, you need someone who is willing to challenge you to move beyond your current territory
Various types of therapy are used to overcome depression. Not all types of depression are alike. Also, personalities and the type of trauma or health issue that initially provoked the depression are different in every situation. Make the effort to find one suited best to your needs.
In my case, I was stuck in a place of grief that I was ill-equipped to process. The emotional trauma I experienced from losing my son and the shortened grief process that comes with saying goodbye before birth continued to invade my present experience years later. My counselor used eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) to help me unclog my stuck emotions so that I could process the present in healthier ways.
You may also want to consider group therapy and support. There are groups for grief, addiction, pornography, substance abuse, divorce care, pregnancy loss, and more. Whatever you are suffering from, you are not the only one going through it. It’s so helpful to connect with others who “get you”. They won’t judge you because they’re dealing with the same problem. But they will support you as you fight the issue together. You are not alone. We are all broken, but we all break in different ways.You are not alone. We are all broken, but we all break in different ways. Find support. #mentalhealthawareness #depression Click To Tweet
Finally, the third place you can seek help is from professional medical personnel.
I endured five years with untreated depression. That time was unnecessarily miserable for me. Part of the problem was a false belief I had that Christians shouldn’t need medical help for mental problems. This is so WRONG! There are innumerable ways that physical and chemical aspects of your body can affect your mental state (and vice versa).
We do not have separate compartments labeled physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Nor can we treat them in isolation. They are fully integrated in ways we can’t even fully comprehend. This whole website is dedicated to exploring those areas and how they interact so we can be strong in all areas.
One summer, I read two books from Christain women I respected. Both hinted at coping with their own personal trauma by using prescriptions among other things. Those little hints gave me enough permission to seek help.
I’ll take it another step forward now. I’m going beyond hinting. I’ll just spell it out for you. I take an antidepressant and antianxiety medication every day under the care of my doctor. I have tried to wean off them once when I was doing well and I crashed. Now, I continue to stay on it even though I’m still doing well to avoid falling in the pit again.
It’s just like vitamins for me. Two little pills do not solve all my problems, but they keep my brain stable enough to allow me to tackle my problems in healthy ways.
For me, getting on medication didn’t make everything instantly better but it did give me just enough of a bump so that I was able to do the other things I need to do to get healthy again.
I will never forget the day shortly after starting on an antidepressant that I was playing with my toddler in her high chair. Suddenly I realized, “I’m not faking it. I actually feel playful!” I had been faking joy for so long that I had forgotten what it felt like to actually experience it.
It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how much I had missed out on by not getting help sooner. Please don’t miss out on any more of your life because you’re too stubborn, too proud, or too misinformed to get professional help. (I’m preaching to my former self here.)Please don't miss out on any more of your life because you're too stubborn, too proud, or too misinformed to get professional help. (I'm preaching to my former self here.) #depression #anxiety #suicideprevention Click To Tweet
Unfortunately, it takes time to find the right medication and dosage. You have to be patient. There’s no formula any or test that will accurately tell you which neurotransmitter is out of whack. It’s a simple process of trial and error with different drugs and dosages until you can get the relief you need without the side-effects you don’t.
Again, please don’t hesitate to get whatever professional medical and mental health help you need. God gave us doctors, counselors, therapists, and psychologists to help us. We are wise to use the knowledge and skill they’ve studied and worked so hard to acquire.
Often, the best and easiest place to start is with your primary care physician. He or she can prescribe medications and also write a referral to more specialized mental health care. My experience has been that my primary care physician gets me started and refers me to both a counselor and a psychiatrist. They usually work in the same building, so I can see two different specialists on the same day, one to talk with and one to tweak my medication. Once I have a stable prescription I’m happy with, I get refill prescriptions from my primary care doctor because that’s more convenient for me.
As a military family, we move frequently, so I am often starting this process over from scratch which requires even more patience. Whatever hoops you have to jump through to find appropriate help for your depression it worth it. YOU are worth it! God did not create you to be miserable. He created you for victory! But you have to fight for and claim that victory that he has already won.
Depression has a way of coloring the way we see everything in dark and negative ways. Be aware of your perspective, the glasses of depression through which you perceive everything in your world. Remind yourself that it’s not as bad as you feel it is. It’s really frustrating and insensitive when other people say that to a depressed person, but it’s actually helpful when you tell your self that your viewpoint is out of whack right now and that’s okay.
So what is the best way to get your thinking back on track? God tells us very simply how to transform our thinking.
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. ~ Romans 12:2
We renew our mind by drenching it in the holy and living word of God. Here are 3 simple ways to do that: Soak, Study, and Save.
Your brain is a sponge. It soaks up all kinds of information from the environment you put it in. Feed your brain the Good News of God’s love letter to you everyday, even if it’s only one verse.
Meditate on it by considering what the verse means and how it impacts your life. Post key verses where they are visible as you go through your day – on the bathroom mirror, in the car, at your desk, in the kitchen, next to your bed. Don’t miss an opportunity to feast on Truth and flush out the lies the world tries to feed you.
There are so many ways to study the Bible. Truly, all you need is a Bible and the Holy Spirit. There are countless apps and books to help you. You probably have at least one small group in your church. It doesn’t matter if you study the Bible alone, with a group of friends, or online. Just dig in regularly and go beyond a casual reading to find out what God is saying to you through His Word.
Memorize God’s words. He will bring them to the forefront of your mind when you need them most, but it works much better when you make the effort to get them in stuck in your mind before the need arises.
Very often, depression has its roots in the past – past trauma, past abuse, past grief, or past hurts that never fully healed. Likewise, anxiety often involves stressing about the future – playing out worst-case scenarios of things that haven’t even happened yet and probably never will.
Our mind is healthiest when we keep it focused on the moment we are in right now, but that is SO HARD to do! It takes strong will power to prevent our minds from wallowing in the past or worrying about the future.
When you think about the past, review what God has done for you not what you regret or how others hurt you. With praise and thanksgiving, remember the past victories of God and know that he is still the same God who is with you in the midst of your depression.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” ~ Lamentations 3:21-24
Instead of worrying about the future, pray about it and then and turn it over to God. Have confidence in what God will do in and through you and in the circumstances around you. Do not fear what you can’t control. Surrender your perceived control to the God who can actually do something about it. Own and pray through his promises.
God gives you grace for the present. It’s where he meets you and is available to minister to your spirit. God doesn’t equip us to handle the problems we imagine. He helps us with where we actually are right now. When you focus on the present moment you will experience so much more joy.
As I was coming out of my fog of depression and focusing more on self-care, I had to deliberately choose what I was going to focus on. I remember one day I had about 10 million things I needed to do but my daughter wanted to go outside and play in the sprinkler. I decided to prioritize focusing on the moment I had with her.
As she danced through the water droplets, I took pictures with my camera as a method to literally focus on the moment. I physically and mentally zoomed in on the beauty of light shining through each falling drop and the uninhibited delight that radiated on my daughter’s face.
That small thing still brings a smile to my face when I remember it. For one small moment, I was able to ignore the dirty laundry and focus on the unrestrained joy of a girl playing in the water. It’s hard to believe how such a small thing can generate such a huge difference in our perspective, but it does. Try it!God doesn't equip us to handle the problems we imagine. He helps us with where we actually are right now. When we focus on the present moment we experience so much more joy. #depression #suicideprevention #mentalhealthmatters Click To Tweet
I’ve already shared with you how I failed miserably at living authentically. My charade was a major contributor to my ongoing struggle and slow recovery. And honestly, I’m still not great at transparency. Like you and everybody else, I’m a work in progress. That’s why God invented grace.
In addition to having a personality type that tends to keep things private (ISFJ), I also had two formative experiences that taught me to wear a mask with expert deception.
First, I grew up as a dancer. I have a “the show must go on” attitude toward life. Like a dancer on stage, I smile and act like that mistake was meant to be there. Nobody in the audience knows the intended choreography anyway. I can feign happiness and confidence quite easily when I need to.
Second, I attended a military academy for college. While at attention (in other words, the entire freshman year) we were expected to maintain “military bearing” at all times. Laughing at something funny, crying when it hurt, wincing with humiliation, smiling with joy, or wearing an exasperated look of frustration were all strictly forbidden. To show any emotion or reaction at all, good or bad, was deemed woefully unprofessional and resulted in verbal chastisement of epically stinging and sarcastic proportions. Hiding my emotions while sporting a calm and unruffled exterior happens automatically for me now. I actually have to make an effort to display my true reaction.
None of those are excuses for living with a “fake” facade of put-togetherness but identifying those contributing factors has helped me realize it’s okay to let them go when I’m not on stage or at attention (which is pretty much all the time now).
Here are three things I wish I had done better during my season of depression that would have made the burden a little less heavy. If what you’re carrying feels too heavy for you, perhaps God never intended you to carry it alone in the first place. Just a thought.If what you're carrying feels too heavy for you, perhaps God never intended you to carry it alone in the first place. #depressionawareness #suicideprevention Click To Tweet
In the months following my son’s death, I made several trips to Walmart. This was back in the day when Walmart employed greeters whose only function was to wish shoppers a happy day as they entered. The sweet little old man at our local Walmart was both an enthusiastic greeter and a thorn in my flesh.
Every time I walked in the store, there he was, beaming from ear to ear. He’d ask me with much exuberance “How are you doing today?” I don’t know why we humans feel compelled to ask this question of absolute strangers. I mumbled a weak “fine” and walked past him as fast as I could.
But on the inside, I was screaming, “I’m miserable! My son just died, I nearly bleed to death, and everybody wants me to ‘get over it’. Life sucks right now and frankly, I wish God had just killed me too when he took my baby from me.” (True thoughts)
The look of pain and horror I imagined that confession would put on that sweet old guy’s face is what kept me from an honest outburst. But seriously, it was more painful to lie that it would have been if nobody even asked how I was doing. I know because that also happened to me with friends who should have known better.
It’s okay to not be okay. You need to accept that about yourself and you need fellowship with others who understand that. If your life feels like a performance, then you aren’t being honest or authentic. I’ve been a “performer” most of my life and it’s exhausting. Jesus sets us free to be who we are meant to be which is unique from every other human ever created. (Gal 5:1, Jn 8:36)
In the past, people who were grieving the loss of a loved one used to dress in all black for a certain period of time or wear a black armband as a visual reminder to others to be gentle. I think we need to bring that back. It’s too easy for us to assume that if a person isn’t shouting about their pain they don’t have any but that’s simply not true.
The truth is, many people are hurting secretly, people you know and care about. You would never guess the pain they’re hiding, but it’s there all the time. Maybe that’s you.
Always be kind to others. You don’t know their stories. And always be willing to share your story at the right time, with supportive people. You never know when your story might encourage someone else as they walk their path of private pain.
Social situations are a double-edged sword when you’re depressed. On one hand, it’s not the time to become a hermit and withdraw from people. That makes depression worse. However, coping with depression doesn’t leave you with much energy or resources to be social, especially if you’re already an introvert.
Engage socially as needed. Only you can determine how much is needed. It depends on your level of extraversion vs. introversion, who is in your immediate circle, and how real you are able to be around them.
Give yourself space and time to heal. It’s okay to go out with friends. Or it’s okay to skip a social event if it would be too overwhelming or fatiguing. Also, it’s okay to change your mind. Do what you believe would be healthiest for you in the long run, not what you feel obligated or pressured to do.
In the time period of my life before I got professional help for my depression, we hosted a weekly family Bible study in our home. More than once, I found myself lying on the couch two hours before everyone was supposed to show up and the house was a wreck. I totally would have called off the Bible study on those days if I could. In fact, I tried. But with the encouragement and help of my husband and even my children, we worked together to get the house ready and opened the doors on time.
I admit the first few minutes I was in “fake-it-til-you-feel-it” mode but by the time everyone left for the evening and we were cleaning up, I was in a much better mood. The combination of worship, good food, fun fellowship with great people, and studying the Word of God never failed to uplift my spirits.
On the other hand, I know that if the social event in question was a formal dinner with a bunch of people I didn’t know, “faking it” would not have helped me at all. I would have come home more drained, exhausted, and depressed than before. As I said, only you can decide what is healthy for you personally.
If relationships with people are more difficult than comforting at this time, you might benefit from seeking encouragement from a furry friend. It has been scientifically proven that there are real physical, mental, and emotional benefits to bonding with animals and with dogs, in particular.
When you’re struggling with grief, depression, or profound discouragement, you don’t have the mental and emotional bandwidth to cope with unnecessary drama or turmoil. Set limits on what you will and won’t get involved with. If someone asks you to volunteer for something you don’t want to do, tell him or her, “This really is not a good season for me to take on extra responsibilities right now. I won’t be able to give this project the dedication it deserves. Thanks for asking, but no.”
Feel at liberty to step down from leadership or volunteer positions until you are able to be in a better place mentally and emotionally. You’re not doing anyone any good if you are “serving” even though you’re running on empty yourself. Step down and let someone else serve while you focus on being kind to yourself. (More on this in the next step.)
You also need to go easy on yourself for not being as productive as usual. (This is very difficult for a recovering perfectionist like myself.) Limit the length of your To-Do list. Consider turning into a Done list. A Done list is a To-Do list in reverse. Instead of writing down all those things you want to do day in the morning, wait until later in the day and write down all the things you actually did do and then give yourself the satisfaction of crossing them off. No item is too small to include.
This is what a successful and productive day can look like for you if that’s where you are in life right now. I’ve been there. Some days, the only item on my list was “Keep the kids alive until Daddy gets home”. When I was deeply depressed, getting up in the morning used 90% of the energy I had for the whole day. The only reason I actually got out of bed was that I had 5 little people counting on me to show up every day no matter what. My children kept me going when nothing else could.
Be gentle with yourself and take care or your needs. They are real and cannot be ignored. Self-care is not selfish, it’s necessary if you are going to serve God and love people.
Here’s a list to get you started:
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
~ Hebrews 10:23
I love this verse! If you are weighed down by depression, I believe that is exactly what God is asking you to do now. Hold on to the hope you profess to believe…even when it’s hard…even when the road is long…even when the night is cold and dark and the way ahead is unclear.
Why? Because God is the One who has promised to care for you and your family and those you minister to and He is faithful! Our God never fails!
Think of the cross of Christ. What a tragic defeat appeared to have happened! It seemed God had forsaken His faithful son and let Him die though He was innocent. It looked like evil had won the day. BUT GOD…
I am holding on to the hope that your life (like Jesus’) only appears to be defeated now. It only seems to be a total loss. God is up to something you can’t even imagine and He wants you to hold on to that hope so you will see your victory come to pass.
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Finally, seek the gift of Joy from God. Remember that the joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). He will enable you to stand and to endure (Psalm 18:33-35). Jesus will share his hard-won victory with you (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Ultimately, we must accept what cannot be changed or undone as we trust God for the final outcome. Let him write the ending to your story. He has a way of redeeming even the most destitute of situations.
The voice that whispers to you in the dark that it’s not worth it…that you should give up…quit trying…check out…end the ordeal… That’s not God’s voice. And it’s not His message to you. That’s your enemy talking. The devil knows he can’t beat Christ in you. God in you is greater than anything that comes against you. (1 Jn 4:4, Is 54:17) Your adversary is trying to get you to forfeit. That’s the only way he can win against you.
May I ask you a question? If God is telling you to hold on to the hope you claim and the devil is trying to get you to quit, who are you going to listen to? Who are you going to cooperate with? To whom will you cling to? The One who loves you enough to die for you or the one who sows lies and reaps destruction? It’s your choice. What will you hold on to today? Hope? or Despair?
God wants you to overcome depression and, as you can see from the length of this article, he has equipped you with many tools to do so. And we’ve only scratched the surface! But, unfortunately, there’s no magic wand anyone can wave to make you feel better instantly. God can heal us completely in a moment, but often he asks us to do some work as he brings our healing gradually. So, if you’ve lost your grip on Hope, it’s time to grab it back and hold on tight.