This series aims to promote awareness of the nature and reality of depression, encourage those who are battling depression, and equip those who want to help someone who is struggling. This post is part 4 in the series. Stay tuned for a new post each week, and find the rest of the series here.
There are many myths about depression. These myths contribute to misconceptions which lead to lack of intervention or inappropriate intervention. We must debunk these myths in order to understand depression more fully. Only then can we intervene in ways that will truly be helpful. Here are some observations about depression that I hope dispel the most common of these myths.
Depression is not a choice. While there may be rare instances in which someone simply refuses to embrace help, many people fighting depression long desperately for change and healing. It is insulting to tell someone struggling with depression simply to cheer up or be happy. People battling depression feel enough guilt and shame without being made to feel that their condition is merely a matter of simply choosing to feel better.
When you are depressed, everyday tasks like getting out of bed, going to work, and taking care of children can be daunting and exhausting. Just facing the day can take everything you have. May we be sensitive enough not to heap further weight upon the heavy burden such people are already carrying by uttering well-intentioned but shortsighted words.
Depression is not a personal weakness, a character flaw, or a lack of faith. Some people go so far as to say that depression is punishment for sin, or even that depression itself is a sin. These are reprehensible, hurtful, and damaging approaches. People battling depression are fighting for every shred of self-esteem and dignity they can. Speaking to them in these terms will only send them plummeting further down the abyss.
Many of the people I know who have fought depression have compassionate hearts, tender spirits, and a strong sense of empathy. They take seriously the pain of others, are willing to enter into that pain, and seek to help other people carry their burdens. They embrace the suffering around them and are emotionally drawn into situations where care is needed. Therefore, depression can often come about as a result of such desirable traits.
In my experience, people battling depression often have a more honest perspective of the world, themselves, and those around them. This world can be a heartbreaking place. People with depression are generally attuned to the rhythms of sorrow in the lives of others, have a finger on the pulse of the aches and tragedies in this world, and possess a healthy awareness of their own brokenness. It is in this spirit that I suggest that depressed people often see, feel, and experience things that others tend to turn away from, ignore, or deny.
Therefore, instead of writing off people who are wrestling with depression, I propose that there is much to be learned from them. Take time to look beyond the exterior layers of depression—you will likely discover beautiful, valuable treasures hidden beneath the surface.
You cannot beat depression just by trying harder. Overcoming depression isn’t a matter of determination, tenacity, or perseverance. This isn’t like starting a new diet or resolving to make it to work on time. Depression is a mental illness. You can’t make yourself be happy or just snap out of it. This is difficult for people who have not experienced depression to understand. Therefore, they often react with little sympathy. “Why can’t you just pull yourself together?” they ask. As we have already discussed, this approach is most decidedly not helpful.
What, then, is my advice to those struggling with depression? You know by now that I won’t tell you to cheer up or get over it. What I will tell to do is to draw close to God, even when you feel empty and do not sense God’s presence. I will tell you that what you are feeling is valid, normal, and nothing that should be a source of shame.
I will also challenge you to reframe your depression as a chance to grow. Depression is often a precursor to a spiritual breakthrough. Depression, for a season, might be a gift. There are valuable lessons we might not learn any other way. Some things can only be gained by experience. Spiritual growth often follows times of trial. The deepest shadows of the dawn signify that the sunrise is coming.
I hated feeling depressed, but I wouldn’t trade that season. I grew in unique ways. I emerged stronger. My faith is more personal and deeper than before. Changed, yes; but richer and mine in ways that it never had been.
Don’t learn to live with depression—learn to live through it. The only way you will lose is if you give up.
Keep talking about it.
In the next post, I will suggest some ideas for treating depression.
This material is taken from my book Rethinking Depression (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2016).