Articles

What Causes Depression and How Is It Treated In Christian Counseling?

By Julie Stroemel, PsyD, Mill Creek Counseling Center

Prevalence

Mother dayDuring any given year, the National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that as many as 17 million Americans suffer from depression. Depression is a real illness which is costly in terms of relationship problems, family suffering and lost productivity at work. The good news is that depression is highly treatable.

Symptoms

While all of us feel sad or down sometimes, these feelings tend to pass quickly.  Depression, on the other hand, may be present if symptoms persist more than two weeks. A person with depression often has feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, guilt and self-blame. Depression may make it difficult to carry out day to day activities such as eating, sleeping, and concentrating on work or other things. People who are depressed may not feel good, and may report headaches, stomach aches, and chronic pain. Sometimes depression can result in irritability and feelings of restlessness.  People who are depressed may feel overwhelmed and exhausted, and may withdraw from activities and people. Some people may experience thoughts of suicide or death.

Causes

Depression is a result of genetic, chemical, biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors, and is often a signal that some mental, emotional, and physical aspect of a person’s life is out of balance. Chronic and serious illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, heart or lung disease may often be accompanied by depression. Some medications may contribute to depression, such as certain blood pressure medications, hormones, some potent treatments such as interferon. Other medical conditions, such as low thyroid function or sleep apnea, may contribute to depression. Some women experience severe depression either during pregnancy or after childbirth due to hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and significant life stressors. Major life changes and transitions that place a person under extreme stress which can lead to exhaustion and depression. Some examples of this may be financial or work related stress, family discord, the death of a loved one, or loss of a job. Other causes may include loss of one’s identity, such as after a move or after retirement, or loss of self-esteem as may happen as a result of abuse and mistreatment. At times, depression is caused by circumstances under a person’s control, such as not yet recognizing that they have choices in a situation. At other times, a person has depression for reasons that are completely outside of their control, such as the loss of a loved one or a medical condition.

Is Treatment Really Necessary?

AdinaAs you can see, the causes may not initially be readily apparent, and may be complex. A trained mental health counselor can evaluate your symptoms and determine an appropriate treatment plan. Research has found that depression is highly treatable. Sadly, some people are reluctant to seek treatment due to stigma of having an emotional or a mental health concern. Out of ignorance they may be told it is a sign of weakness, or may be told to “snap out of it” or “choose to feel better.” People with depression need to understand that it is a signal that something is out of balance, and that it is not something that you can simply decide not to have. Getting quality treatment is crucial in getting better, and a person who is depressed should not suffer needlessly in silence. If untreated, depression can go on for a long time, and may make the person’s health worse. The immune system is weakened, diabetics have difficulty controlling their blood sugar, blood pressure may be harder to manage, and if untreated long term, the person is at higher risk for other serious health problems such as heart disease, and in later life, memory impairment.  Depression places the entire body under stress.

Treatment Approaches

Years of research have shown that therapy by a well-trained mental health provider is effective in treating depression and the symptoms related to depression. Some issues addressed in therapy may include behavioral activation, which involves working with an individual to bring structure and active engagement back into their daily routine (The IMPACT Model of Behavioral Activation; University of Washington, 2014). Treatment may prevent mild depression from getting worse, and may assist those experiencing moderate to severe depression in stabilizing and improving their symptoms. While research indicates that previous bouts of depression increase the risk of recurrence in the future, therapy may reduce the risks for recurrence. Problem-solving Therapy in a Christian Counseling setting may assist a person in identifying problems that are contributing to their depression, as well as what parts of the situation they may be able to change. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in a Christian Counseling setting may support a person in learning new or more effective strategies for coping with life circumstances or interpersonal issues, following God’s design for relationships and for living.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy may also help to break the cycle of negative or distorted ways of thinking that contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and move a person toward a more honest, Christ-centered view of the situation. A skilled therapist may also work with a person to learn how to relieve suffering and prevent recurrence of depression. They may help with skills such as improving one’s social support, creating new ways to cope, improving personal resiliency and making positive lifestyle changes.

Family and Friends

Involvement and support of family and friends is crucial. Loved ones can learn constructive ways to support and encourage the person, can help them stick with the recommended treatment, and can help them practice coping and problem-solving skills being learned in counseling.

Is Medication Necessary?

Portrait of a sad womanMedication can be helpful for some people, and is an important part of treatment especially if symptoms of depression are severe. Research shows that the most effective treatment for moderate to severe depression involves a combination of therapy and medication. For children and adolescents, counseling is the first line approach to treatment. For adults with mild depression, they may prefer to try counseling first.

Christian counseling can offer compassionate, skilled treatment in overcoming the symptoms of depression, and learning new ways of coping, building resiliency, and restoring hope in the Lord.

Love one another…Bear one another’s burdens…rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep…Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9; Galatians 6:2, NSRV; Romans 12:12, 15, NKJV; Galatians 6:9-10, NRSV)

References for This Article

The National Institutes of Health, 2014

IMPACT model for depression: Evidence-based depression care, 2014 (http://impact-uw.org/)

American Psychological Association, 2014 with contributions from Daniel J. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Lynne M. Hornyak, Ph.D., and Lynn P. Rehm, Ph.D.

Chapin, Alice, 1996. 365 Bible Promises for Hurting People

Photos

  • Portrait of Sad Woman,” Image ID: 9774916, Copyright: luckybusiness, Published: Mar. 30, 2012, Downloaded from Depositphoto.com
  • “Teen Girl in Depression,” Image ID:  13539409, Copyright: iancucristi, Published: Mar. 16, 2013, Downloaded from Depositphoto.com
  • “Mother Day,” Image ID: 21385103, Copyright: Yaruta, Published:  Feb. 26, 2013, Downloaded from Depositphoto.com


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