If you are new to this discussion, and have not read the first post, please let me encourage you to go and read there first by clicking here.
This post is growing, so we will split this text into two categories–this entry will discuss the physical aspects of depression, and the final post will offer scriptural examples and resources. Bear with me. 🙂
Regarding alternative causes (other than a spiritual issue) of depression, John Wesley preached:
“This is eminently the case with regard to those which are termed nervous disorders. And faith does not overturn the course of nature: Natural causes still produce natural effects. Faith no more hinders the sinking of the spirits (as it is called) in an hysteric illness than the rising of the pulse in a fever.”
Though not discounting maintenance of the spiritual self by any stretch of the imagination , he did practically suggest abstinence from alcohol, minimizing use of caffeine, exercise, healthy diet, and good sleep habits as being helpful in combating depression. These are steps suggested today in “stress management” plans (click here for a recent post on this).
This is controversial. Some believe that all depression is rooted in spiritual issues, while others make allowances for possible physiological factors as well. Wesley seems to be suggesting here that he would be in the latter camp, assenting to some cases which, although they can be helped by ministering to the spirit, will not be entirely alleviated until the “natural” cause is determined. I understand this. I had a pronounced hormonal imbalance some years ago that resulted in a pit of depression I’d never experienced before. I was inconsolable, and although listening to scripture tapes did help focus my mind, it did not address the overabundance of estrogen at the root. Only when both of these needs (the imbalance, as well as the anxiety I felt as a result of my reeling hormones) were addressed was I finally “straightened out.”
There can be such a fine line here…one that I believe can only be traced by the scalpel-sharp, discerning Word of God. It discriminates between the thoughts and the intents of the heart (Heb 4:12). What else on the face of this earth can accomplish a task of such intricacy and delicacy? As mentioned in the last post, we ought to go there first, lay our concerns out before God, and ask His help in discerning any detectable causes such as depression-fostering events (losing a loved one, being “downsized” from your job, prolonged illness…) or harbored sin. If you are blessed with a physician who is a Christian, he or she will hopefully ask enough questions to help you in this process. We need His ability to wade through deceptive self-talk and reveal our true hearts and motives. He is truth, and is not fettered by faulty human reason.
After we have looked for any distinguishably self-generated causes (probably best done with the help of your pastor or a Christian counselor–someone who knows the Word and can be objective), we go from there to investigate physiological causes, with the help of a physician. I would suggest writing out a description of what you have been experiencing, approximately when it began, and any factors that seem to contribute to the symptoms. Include every detail. You do not know what may be significant to someone with expertise that may seem inconsequential to you. Also, when you are emotionally wrapped up in a situation, very often it is difficult to remember all of your concerns, so having a written copy can prove invaluable.
In a recent email exchange I had with Dr. Greg Mazak (psychology professor at BJU), he wisely interjected that medication should not be the knee-jerk approach:
…the burden of proof is on the physician to explain what illness I have, how he knows I have it, and how the meds will help to correct the physical illness (not merely make me feel better).
Superb advice. Targeting the cause and bringing healing are the goals. Oh, that more physicians heartily adhered to the Hippocratic Oath:
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.