According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression effects on women may include the following:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Thoughts of suicide, or suicide attempts
Depression carries a high risk of suicide. Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very, very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or the deaf hotline at 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889).
Warning signs of suicide with depression include:
- A sudden switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
- Always talking or thinking about death
- Clinical depression (deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating) that gets worse
- Having a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving through red lights
- Losing interest in things one used to care about
- Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
- Saying things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out”
- Talking about suicide
- Visiting or calling people one cares about
Remember, if you or someone you know is demonstrating any of the above warning signs of suicide with depression, either call your local suicide hotline, contact a mental health professional right away, or go to the emergency room of your local hospital for immediate evaluation and treatment.
Depression produces suffering. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to suffer. The pain can range from bothersome to absolutely debilitating. Most who struggle with depression, or any other form of pain, just want to pain to go away. A valid and healthy response!
What are some factors that influence our battle with depression?
Our Physical Bodies
The three most important factors in the health of our bodies are sleep, exercise, and diet. Women, have you had a physical checkup lately? Physical contributors to seasons of depression can also include lack of Vitamin D, menopause, thyroid issues, and side effects from medications. Are you running on sugar, caffeine, nicotine, or unhealthy foods? These will negatively affect your body and your sense of well-being. We know this. However, changing bad habits is really tough under the best of circumstances.
Hope in the Process
What if there is more to accomplish in the process of “making the pain go away” than just the absence of pain? What if the process of dealing with depression could create a newness of life that would seemingly make the suffering have some redemptive value? This is always God’s intention – to redeem even the worst of situations.
With utmost care and concern for the most debilitating suffering caused by depression, let’s look at some therapeutic ideas to deal with this deep and painful suffering from the vantage point of the end game – allowing God to be the creator, the artist, the restorer – receiving in process something of immense value.
James 1 says to count it all joy when we fall in various trials. But how do we get to that joy?
Acknowledge and articulate what the cause(s) of suffering are: Other people, ourselves, our bodies, Satan, God, unknown factors.
Express our feelings as best we can, i.e. fear of failure, grief, frustration, disappointment, helplessness, numbness, desire for justice, anxious, afraid, stubborn, etc. Feelings help us to take the pulse on our hearts.
Crying Out to God
Call out to God. How each of us does this is so personal and unique. However, each of us knows when our heart has been poured out to God in a genuine way.
We are at War
Realize we are in a war. Lies we believe about God’s character and our own value need to be uncovered so we can fight their effects and establish the truth. Feelings are valid, but may not be true.
Even the smallest kernel of hope will help us. Romans 15 says, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Define your purpose in life. Remember things that have felt fulfilling in the past. Redefine your value system. Serve others, even when it seems you have nothing to give.
In Romans 5, it says, “We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who was given to us.”
Surrender to God
Give up. Surrender. Let God have our hearts and lives to manage. Go back to the last thing we heard God say to us and obey.
Status of our Hearts/Our Internal Beliefs/Interpretations
Our heart at its worst will be prideful, seek autonomy, and want to be indulged –ultimately saying that God is not enough. When God seems to be silent, we may interpret that as a need for us to take over, or believe we are not loved, or just give up.
Here is a series of questions we can ask to discover what is in our hearts:
What do you love? What do you hate?
What do you want, crave, hope for?
What is your goal?
What do you fear?
What do you worry about?
What do you feel like you need?
Where do you find refuge, comfort, pleasure, or security?
Who are your heroes and role models?
What defines success or failure for you?
When do you say, “If only . . .? (e.g. “If only my husband would . . .”)
What do you see as your rights?
What do you pray for?
What do you talk about?
What are your dreams or fantasies?
When do you get angry?
When do you tend to doubt Scripture?
Where in your life have you struggled with bitterness?
What or whom do you avoid?
Do you feel guilty at times?
(List of questions taken from David Powlison, Basic Biblical Concepts of Human Motivation, unpublished.)
In Deuteronomy 8:2 of the Bible, it says that wilderness detours were intended to destroy unbelief, to humble us, and to test us, so we would know what was in our hearts. In Hebrews 5:8, it says Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered. God intends suffering to produce new life, not death.
Fear’s main job is to keep love from growing. Fear of death, fear of repeating the past, trusting in things that don’t last, and fear of God leaving us. Where our treasure is, there will our hearts be. If we trust in God rather than bowing to our fears, we will thrive.
Sadness + Anger = Depression. How will we handle disappointment? Will we turn away from trust or will we turn to the one who redeems? Will we genuinely grieve, but then become angry because we think we are entitled?
When we are feeling guilty, it is often because we have done something wrong. Our conscience convicts us. When we confess and repent (agree that our behavior was wrong and go a different direction), times of refreshing will come.
Shame, however, does not deal with our behavior, it attacks our value. Shame tells us that we are bad, unfit for love, failures, no good, worthless, etc.
How will we handle shame? How will we respond when words or thoughts demean who we are (vs. our behavior) and tell us we are rotten to the core? Will we try to become “good enough” by working more hours, having unneeded plastic surgeries, putting on a mask of greatness, establishing unending rules like the Pharisees, or give up trying at all and just accept that we have nothing to offer and are “no good” and why bother? Living in God’s presence is the anecdote to shame.
Has something besides God become our god? Like the Israelites who made a powerless golden calf, or carved idols that could neither hear nor speak, has something set itself up in our hearts to replace a God who doesn’t seem to be responding as we hoped? Cut it down, toss it out.
What Has Helped
(As told by many who have experienced depression)
“I felt like things began to change when . . .”
1. I began to talk to myself rather than listen to myself. I began to speak different Scriptures to myself rather than listen to my own voice of hopelessness.
2. I stopped saying, “It doesn’t work.” I was always looking for THE answer. I would pray (trying to make deals with God), look at my own heart (for a minute or two), or briefly try some other seemingly spiritual activity. When they didn’t work, I would quit. I felt justified in quitting. Now I believe that it does “work.” There is contentment and even joy in long term, small steps of faith and obedience.
3. I had a pastor who kept the bigger picture of God’s kingdom in front of me. Depression made my world so small; when I saw that God was on the move, I began to have hope.
4. My daughter became very sick. It forced me to see outside my own world.
5. A friend didn’t give up on me. She was always loving me and pointing me to the truth, even when I didn’t want to hear about Jesus.
6. A friend let me “borrow” her faith. My faith was so weak, but I always knew that she was confident of God’s presence and love, for the church and even for me.
7. I forgave my father.
8. I heard stories of sorrow and victory from friends.
9. I saw that it was 90 percent pride. I felt like I deserved certain things from certain people. It had been about me.
10. It shocked me at first, but I knew she loved me, and I knew she was right.
11. I began to believe that I was in a battle and realized that I had to fight.
12. I saw that I was doing things rather than just having things done to me. For example, I was doing anger; I was doing big-time complaining. In my heart, I was doing what I wanted.
14. A friend who helped me to move from the “tyranny of the should” to living out of the gospel of grace.
15. I realized that my interpretations were fallible. I had huge misunderstandings and made many false accusations.
16. I began to force myself to read Scripture and listen to it.
17. I began to understand God’s grace. I began to see that my wallowing in guilt was a form of works righteousness, not godly sorrow. Once I saw that it was good to see my sin, I began to tell myself, “when in doubt, repent.” I decided.
“It was not helpful when . . .”
1. I looked for superficial sins in my life. I was focused on specific sins, like the way I spoke to my children. I didn’t look for the sin that drove my deeper sense of need. I didn’t go all the way to basic questions such as, “Do I really trust Jesus? And, what do I trust him for?”
2. I was angry, and no one said anything about it.
3. I was angry, and people told me I had a right to be angry.
4. I was told to love myself more.
5. I was told to lower my expectations for myself.
6. People gave answers before they tried to listen. I seemed like everyone had a remedy for me.
7. People talked too much.
8. Friends didn’t say some of the things on their minds; they were afraid to speak honestly because they thought I was too fragile to hear it.
9. People tried too hard.
Specific Strategies to Try
1. Take one biblical story, read it every day, and write down ten (or more) applications of it. (The basic idea with this assignment, and some of the others that follow, is that it is good to meditate on something.)
2. Find ten positive qualities in a friend. Write them down and send the list to him or her.
3. Write out your purpose for living. Allow it to be revised by others. Memorize it. Then write it out again using different words.
4. Become an expert in what God says to those who suffer. Consider starting with Hebrews 10–12.
5. Write down things from the Sunday sermon that were good, important, and true.
6. Each day, speak or write something that edifies others.
7. Take one aspect of creation (e.g. grass, a shrub, a squirrel, a leaf) and consider it until you can say it is good.
8. Listen to God’s Word. Use music that points you to Christ, or ask someone to read to you or teach you what he is learning. Be able to summarize what you heard. Practice listening.
9. Keep a sharp eye out for grumbling and complaining. Like gossip, these sins are acceptable in our culture, so we don’t see their ugly roots. What does the grumbling or complaining really say?
10. Consider these questions: In this culture, have we forgotten the benefits of hardships? What are the possible benefits to suffering? (see Psalm 71, 119:67; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; Hebrews 5:8; James 1:3).
11. Since the label “depression” cannot capture the complexity of your experience, what other words (especially words that can be keyed to Scripture) more concretely capture what is going on in your heart?
12. Get help. Ask people to pray for you and speak the truth to you.
13. You can’t always change the way you feel, but you can change the way you think. What thoughts have to change? Start saying an emphatic “STOP” whenever you notice them.
14. Ask, “What am I getting out of my depression?” You might not have any answers, and the question might not be relevant, but it is a reminder that we are often doing more than we realize.
15. Write up a depression flow-chart. Begin with a recent event that sent you into a tailspin. Be as specific as possible about the steps you followed to restore your equilibrium.
16. What options do you have? You may feel like you are stuck on one long, hopeless path, but that isn’t true. You are making decisions every day. Right now you are at another crossroads.
17. Search for a depressed person. Speak a word of encouragement.
18. Never go to Scripture without finding Jesus in it.
19. Be careful about analyzing on your own. Run your analysis by someone else.
20. Walk as briskly as you can with another person.
(Source: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, Edward T. Welch)
Remember, you have great value and you are deeply loved.
“Pray,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Glow, by Cathal Mac an Bheatha, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “May Rain,” courtesy of Sam Burriss, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “My favorite spot,” courtesy of Felix Russell Saw, unsplash.com, Public Domain License