Springtime is in the air, with all the hope and new life that goes with this change of season. Sadly, there are times when a person cannot even enjoy the promise of newness that our faith gives. Perhaps the winter has been harsh with loss or disappointments. There may be a diminished resiliency for those who have endured many seasons of loss and change.
Having a physical or emotional illness or injury can deplete coping resources, and “neuroplasticity” is not intact.
Then, even as the flowers bud into bloom around her, instead of noticing and resting in the awe of a new season, the one who suffers finds herself looking out the window of regret about the past, asking questions that start with, “If only . . . ” and “What if . . . ? ”
Her attention turns inward, and her thinking may become circular always ending in the same place: “Why me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this? I can’t sleep, I don’t care to eat, I don’t like myself, and I even sometimes wonder if life is worth living.”
This state of disorder is depression—a condition of body, mind, and spirit. Depression is NOT a symptom of “weak faith,” as some might tend to believe. Accepting the label of “weak” or “inadequate” faith could be part of the negative self-image and negative thinking that accompany severe depression, causing a person to label oneself in such a manner (or to accept the label given by others who seek a simple understanding to a complex issue).
On the contrary, some people I have known who had a diagnosis of depression have exhibited an amazing strength of faith as they trusted God to hear their laments and struggled in their relationship with God. Seeking an awareness of God’s presence and grace is an act of faith as well as a healing step.
Effective psychotherapy supports the struggling person in this journey and promotes self-understanding toward a realistic self-image. The truly healing therapy process attends to the (1) physical, (2) emotional, and (3) spiritual aspects of the person:
- On a physical level, there may be a need for anti-depressants or other medication to assist with sleep issues, loss of appetite, and low energy levels that accompany depression.
- On an emotional level, patient acceptance and encouragement is needed to explore roots of loss, and sometimes past trauma, in order to grieve and come to terms with hurtful life experiences.
- On a spiritual level, assurance of God’s presence and care may be spoken out of the caregiver’s own faith, acknowledging that even though the suffering one does not “feel” it, she can be invited to trust and experience that love through those around her, even in small and seemingly insignificant ways. She can also be encouraged to stay in contact with God through her own conversation in prayer.
Partnering with mental health professionals, the caring faith community has much to offer when there is an understanding of a person’s needs in response to having a diagnosis of depression. If you ever wonder how you can be helpful, ask a person who is recovering from depression, “How have you been? Are you being helped on your healing journey by your faith community, family, and friends?” And you might ask, “What else might make a difference for you?” Be ready to listen, because we are all in this together!
Mary Jacob served for more than twenty-five years as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Lutheran Counseling Services in Winter Park, Florida. She has consulted with congregational health ministries throughout Florida and provides workshops and training on a variety of mental health topics.