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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Depression and Spiritual Healing

Depression is still not widely understood and accepted in our society today. Some cultures attach a stigma to it and this is believed to have been fatal in at least one case, but doubtlessly in many others as well.

For Christians, especially those of us who come from sub-cultures where "Victorious Christian Living" and "The Secrets of the Happy Christian Life" are seen as worthy ideals, being diagnosed as clinically depressed can be disheartening.

Already one is depressed for whatever reason. Now, there is a silent accusation that one is either not trusting God enough or else there is something amiss with one's spiritual walk. So if you are an Asian Christian for instance, you are twice doomed if you are mentally ill!

In order to counter these debilitating emotions, I suggest the following steps:

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional and this advice is not from a mental health professional. I am speaking from my own experience roand reflection on this issue, but remember, I might be a depressant in denial!

(1) Read the Psalms.
The Psalms are pregnant with the outpouring of the soul of a person who is "downcast" (Psalm 42, 43 and in deep "trouble" (Psalm 9, 10, 22 37, etc).

The Psalmist does not hide his emotional turmoil. Instead, he tells himself to keep his melancholy in check and encourages himself to praise God, to cry out to Him and to boldly confess his trust and confidence in the saving grace of the Savior.

The past few days, my depression has robbed me of energy and sometimes have totally incapacitated me. As the psalmist says, I have been sleepless, have lost my appetite and I have felt the "bones suffer(ing) mortal agony" Psalm 42:10. It sometimes feels too much to bear. Yet, it is also through the Psalms that I find solace, motivation and strength.

(2) Embrace your depression.
Acknowledge that you are depressed. Do not deny it. As you read the Psalms, agree with the Psalmist that you are fearful (Psalm 34). Talk about it. Join a group if there is one in your area. 12-steps groups are very powerful and supportive to your healing process.

Share with your friends and family. If that is uncomfortable, why, put it on your blog and let your online community be your support. Whatever you do, recognize that you need support!

If you wish, drop me an email and I will talk to you!

(3) Reflect the causes.
Find the root causes to your depression. It could be due to physical exhaustion or "burn out". Perhaps it is chronic or caused by childhood or adolescent experiences. Or perhaps it is caused by social interactions. There are things that you might be able to change. If so, change them.

However, if the cause or causes are deep-rooted, you may need professional help.You may need to "change the past" or at least, change the effects that the past have on you. A quote that helps me comes from Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People : Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, "I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday." Acknowledging that, he says allows me to choose differently.

(4) Seek Treatment.
Do not feel ashamed to seek help. Find a counselor or a therapist. There are many different counselors, so check them out. Talk to them about their therapies and find someone that you can feel comfortable to talk about your thoughts, feelings and reflections.

If appropriate, and your counselor may refer you to one, seek help from a psychiatrist. At the least, go talk to your pastor or church leader and start from there.

However, some Christian leaders or pastors frown on counseling or any form of psychological therapy as they believe that psychology, and especially, psychiatry is humanistic.

Whether or not you accept that premise, at the very least, go talk to a counselor/spiritual mentor/pastor/leader.

(5) Understand that it is a disease.
Depression is not just a feeling. In fact, call it what it is: mental illness. It is not just a matter of "feeling depressed." It is a matter of being physically unwell because whatever else is happening to you mentally or psychologically, there is something physically wrong with your body - you have a chemical imbalance in your brain.

If you are consistently feeling down, and are incapacitated by this feeling, it is time to note that it is not healthy not just for you but also for your loved ones. If prescribed medication, you need to take it.

I know I am being hypocritical here, as I was prescribed meds and recently, I decided to go off the meds and also stopped seeing my counselor and my psychiatrist. In my case, I am taking a calculated risk due largely because of my financial situation, and believe me, I am doing the other five things that I am sharing here in this post.

(6) Share with Friends and Family
I have already mentioned this above, but I need to reiterate the importance of seeking the support of family and friends. Years ago, concerned about some of my more disenfranchised friends who were obviously depressed (and one or two who were even identified by the church as demon-possessed), I read a very good book called, "Helping Hand" by Anthony Yeo.

The thesis of the book is that if only more of us lend a helping hand to our close friends and family, then we will be able to prevent them from slipping to the stage where professional help is required.So, this point is both for you if you are feeling down and also for you if you are not, that you seek out your friend or loved one, to lend a helping hand.

Incidentally, I talked a little about this before, how the Church is designed by God to be the balm and the means by which spiritual, mental and physical healing is channeled through koinonia I do strongly believe that community life and intimacy is one way out of depression.

DJ Chuang recently blogged about the possible next fad for the church being friendship, to which I say, "Bring it on!"

(7) Pray
Recently, I mused about the purpose of prayer, but I was probably being too theoretical there. Some of my darkest moments have been lifted up by reading and praying with the Psalmist.

It is uplifting to hear the great man after God's own heart pour out his soul in his anguish and sorrow, and to imitate him in so doing, and then to resonate and agree with him as he confesses his confidence, trust and hope in God his Savior, Rock and Redeemer.

I hope the above helps you.

Please share if you think I have missed something, or if you care to share with me stories from your own journey through depression, yours or someone else's close to you.