May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Two of the most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, cost the global economy the equivalent of US$ 1 trillion a year, according to the World Health Organization

Depression affects approximately 280 million people worldwide and can occur alone, concurrent with another mental health condition (such as anxiety or substance abuse), or as a symptom of a chronic illness. It may be a one time event, or it can come and go over a period of weeks, months, or years. It causes a disinterest in normally interesting activities, feelings of hopelessness, and even suicidal thoughts. 

Even if someone looks like they have a good life, seems to have everything they could possibly want, or appears to have it all together, they are not disqualified from experiencing depression. They may feel guilty about being depressed when there’s no obvious reason, or they may feel empty in spite of everything they have, but either way, depression is harder to detect in people who feel like they have to keep up a good front. Often they’re the ones who shock us when they commit suicide because we had no clue they were even depressed.

Suicide remains the second leading cause of death among youth aged 10-14 and adults aged 24-35, according to a Health and Human Services fact sheet dated May 3rd, 2022. That is a depressing statistic in itself!

Predictably, depression rates tripled from 8.5% pre-pandemic (2017-2018) to 27.8% during the COVID-19 pandemic (2020), according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/) and almost quadrupled to 32.8% by October 2021 according to a Boston University article. The study showed the highest rates of depression occurred among low income households, people who were not married, and those who’d endured multiple COVID related stressors, such as job loss, death of a loved one due to COVID, financial problems, isolation, and lack of childcare.

Many people have had to endure some pretty horrific things. Think about the Ukrainians suffering through Russia’s recent attacks. Those kinds of stressors and losses affect people deeply. How could they not?

Unfortunately, there remains a stigma around mental illness, one that labels sufferers as “crazy.” I’ve worked in healthcare for thirty years and still hear medical professionals (who should know better) make negative or derogatory comments about those who come in after a suicide attempt, with suicidal ideation, or having a panic attack. I have suffered from depression on and off for forty years, and as one who’s attempted suicide twice in my life, it angers me and saddens me when I hear those misperceptions verbalized.  

For Christians, it’s often no better. Other believers who don’t understand may point fingers at those with depression, saying they should have a closer relationship with the Lord, should have more faith, should be reading the Word more, or should be praying more.

The truth is none of those “shoulds” is going to make the Lord cure the depression, just the same as there’s nothing that guarantees the Lord will cure a physical illness if you do those things. 

“For the LORD your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed.”

Deuteronomy 10:17

I take medication to prevent me from spiraling down, but it’s no different from the pill I take for my fibromyalgia or someone getting an insulin shot because of a malfunctioning pancreas or someone taking a pill to make their thyroid work properly. We live in a fallen world and more often than not our bodies don’t function as perfectly as they were originally designed to.

Even Paul was given “a thorn in his side,” an illness or handicap of some kind, that he prayed the Lord would take from him, but the Lord didn’t. Instead he allowed it to remind him of how much he needed and depended on the Lord.

⁷I could have become proud of myself because of the amazing and wonderful things God has shown me. So I was given a problem that caused pain in my body. It is a messenger from Satan to make me suffer. ⁸Three times I begged the Lord to take it away from me. ⁹But he said to me, “My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NIRV)

Some key takeaways to help alleviate depression:

  • Forgiveness is crucial. Holding on to past hurts does nothing to the other person, but it does make our life miserable. Get to the root of bitterness, resentment, hurt, and anger from past injustices and ask God to help you forgive the person who wronged you. Try seeing them as a hurting person, too, one that’s lost in their own swirl of anger, resentment, and bitterness. Choose to release them from your negative thoughts and instead pray for them to come to know Jesus. Choose to forgive yourself for past mistakes, too. 

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you condone their behavior, but it does mean you’re not going to let it drag you down any more. Forgiving yourself and others, apart from being a command from God, is the best thing you can do for your own mental and physical wellbeing.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Colossians 3:13 (NLT)
  •  Isolation makes it worse, but that’s often one of the first responses to depression. Those who are depressed feel alone and like no one understands, plus they don’t typically have the energy to cope with being around other people.

I know it can be difficult to make yourself do anything, so start small if you have to, even if it means just getting out of bed, getting dressed, and sitting in the sun. Then try to progress from there and do something you once enjoyed. Have a cup of coffee with a friend, play a game, or go for a walk. Find something to help make you feel alive again.

  • Focusing on yourself and your problems only perpetuates the downward spiral. It’s hard to get out of your own head when you don’t want anything to do with anyone else, but just as a car tends follow our line of sight, we tend to follow our thoughts. Our mind is distracted from the loops of negative thinking when the focus is on helping someone who is worse off than we are. Sometimes, that can help put things in perspective for us. 

Search out your local food bank, homeless shelter, rape crisis center, or cancer treatment center, and see if they need a volunteer. 

Also, try focusing on Scripture, especially God’s promises. Find an uplifting verse or chapter that really speaks to you, memorize it, and meditate on it. It can’t hurt! 

Finally, 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.

Philippians 4:8 (CEV)
  •  Talking it over tends to help because bottling things up is often what causes the depression in the first place. First of all, try spilling your heart out to God in prayer, like King David, the author of most of the Psalms did.

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

1 Peter 5:7 (NLT)

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 34:18 (NLT)

That may be all you need but if not, try jotting your thoughts down in a journal, talking to a counselor, or confiding in a trusted friend who doesn’t think they have all the answers.

  • Laughter is good medicine.

A few studies have shown laughter releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones) in the brain which help counteract the depletion of serotonin found in those who suffer from depression. “A good belly laugh leads to the release of endorphins from the brain,” says Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, according to an article in National Geographic. That release sets off a cascade of heart-healthy biological events, because endorphins, the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters, help increase blood flow, lessen inflammation, inhibit platelet clumping, and reduce the formation of cholesterol plaque.

Photo by Savannah Dematteo on Pexels.com

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.”

Proverbs 17:22
  • Depression and chronic pain often go hand in hand and can be part of a vicious cycle. For me, when the intensity of my fibromyalgia pain is creeping up on the pain scale, the more likely it is for my depression to worsen, too. Similarly, when my depression is at its worst, my body aches a lot more. Oftentimes, if you can alleviate one of them, the other will improve as well.
  • Exercise can help. Ever heard of a runner’s high? That’s why a lot of people enjoy exercise. It gives them a high from the released endorphins and can be a great way to combat anxiety and depression according to WebMD.

So, if you’re suffering from depression: 

  • forgive anyone who’s hurt you, betrayed you, or let you down, including yourself. 
  • don’t isolate yourself. 
  • try helping someone else. 
  • push yourself to do something active.
  • talk it over with a friend or a counselor or try writing it down. 
  • do something to make yourself laugh (preferably with friends!), and 
  • put on some worship music, keep praying, and focus on positive Scriptures.

~~ Always seek professional help if you become suicidal. In the US, call 988 for National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (or 800-273-8255). ~~

Don’t let the devil convince you there’s no way out of your problems or that the world would be a better place without you. Neither of those things are true. In fact, my bet is the devil is trying so hard to convince you of those lies because you have a special purpose that he doesn’t want you to fulfill. Fight back and don’t let the devil win!

 And remember, you’re not alone. Millions of people have suffered or do suffer from depression. Chances are you’ll find someone who understands what you’re going through.

Plus, I’m here for anyone who wants to talk.

Tell me: if you’ve ever suffered from depression, what helped you?

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