I am a leader in my church and I don’t know who to turn to. I am worried about the possibility of retrenchment. But what is more worrying is lately I have not been my usual self. I get impatient, frustrated and angry easily. It’s affecting my wife and children. I haven’t been sleeping well and have no appetite. I can’t make myself do what I know I should do. I don’t know what is wrong with me – I can’t flick off the gloominess. I feel so guilty. Am I backsliding or do I lack faith? I try to read the Bible more and pray more. I can’t expose my weakness to those who look up to me and I don’t believe that a mature Christian like me should get into this state.
Hopeless & Helpless
Dear Hopeless & Helpless,
It looks like you are sinking into depression. “Christians should not be depressed” is a myth. It has caused a lot of harm and guilt, making sufferers feel they “should know better”, which leads to the denial of their condition, making matters worse. Well-meaning family and friends who are not aware of the real situation tend to demand that the sufferer “snap out of it” and “get your act together”.
The fact of the matter is anybody can suffer from mood swings, regardless of whether they are Christians or not. Many factors may trigger depression, for example the external stressors in your case—possible retrenchment and physical exhaustion (caused by lack of sleep or nourishment.) My husband Tek is a doctor with experience in psychiatry. He explains that recent studies seem to show the cause of depression could be rooted in brain chemistry. If the chemicals necessary to maintain the function of a particular area of the brain are unbalanced, one’s mood is affected. Genetics have a strong part to play too. Hence, we should not label depression as a “lack of faith” or “bad attitude” because depression is likely due to a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, psychological and spiritual factors.
Depression may be classified into two groups:
Reactive depression—precipitated by some obvious stress-inducing factors. The symptoms may be mild and the duration short.
Major depression—associated with severe symptoms, causing dysfunction over a long period.
A Biblical Example
In the case of the prophet Elijah, he went into reactive depression (1 Kings 19:1-18) after an exhausting spiritual battle with the false prophets. Fearing for his life, he ran away from Queen Jezebel. Exhausted and starved, he became depressed and wanted to die. God first took care of his physical needs. After eating, resting and regaining his strength, God strengthened his spirit with His presence. Then, God changed his negative mindset by telling him He had 7000 faithful ones, not just Elijah alone. Following God’s example of dealing with Elijah’s body, mind, will, emotions and spirit, you should identify the same aspects in your life and make the changes accordingly.
What You Can Do
- Have a support group. It is important for all Christians to connect to a group of non-judgmental brethren who will provide emotional and social support, give practical help and especially pray with you. Don’t isolate yourself but spend time with people whom you can confide in and be accountable to.
- Engage in mild activity or exercise. Go to a movie, a ball game—do something that you enjoy. Don’t stay away from church.
- Don’t expect too much of yourself but set small, realistic goals that you can achieve.
- Break up large tasks into small ones. You won’t feel guilty if you can see you are accomplishing something, no matter how small.
- If you don’t improve after a certain period of time and become seriously dysfunctional, consult a doctor who may refer you to relevant specialists.
Having given you some practical suggestions, the spiritual aspect may be even more important. Soak yourself in the Word of God, pray the Word and declare it aloud. People with discernment of spirits and deliverance/healing ministries will be able to bring about spiritual healing. God, the ultimate Healer, uses all ways and means to effect healing. You are not helpless—help is available and there is hope. Ask God to lead you to the right resources.
Do you have an issue you need advice on? Write to Dear Goldie at firstname.lastname@example.org for her godly counsel. Selected questions may be featured in this column. If you leave an email address, you will have your question answered, whether it’s published or not.