At forty-nine years old, Susan was disenchanted, angry, and hopeless. The sadness and hurt were clearly evident in her eyes. She began by stating that she did not believe counseling would work and was not sure why she had even made the appointment. One by one she listed all the situations, relationships, and events that had disappointed her. The wall she had built brick by brick around herself for protection was nearly visible to the eye. Susan reported that she was exhausted and did not believe that God had her best interest in mind, nor anyone else for that matter.
She folded her arms across her chest, sat back, and gave me a look that said “I dare you to help me.” Vigilantly I was praying unceasingly that God would give me the words to help this woman and that she would have ears to hear whatever he gave me for her.
How would you respond to Susan?
There are various perspectives about depression, particularly in Christian communities. Some believe it is simply spiritual warfare. Others believe it is a lack of sleep, personal weakness, blue mood, or the result of committing a sin—“so just get over it!” Unfortunately, if it were that simple, Susan would have “gotten over it” long ago.
- One in four women will experience severe depression at some point in life.
- Depression affects twice as many women as men, regardless of racial and ethnic background or income.
- In general, married women experience depression more than single women do.
- Depression is common among young mothers who stay at home full-time with small children. (http://depression.emedtv.com/depression/depression-in-women.html)
What is Depression?
An illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts, which affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished away. People with a depressive disease cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people with depression. http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=2947
(NOTE: although many of these facts are true for men as well as women, I will use feminine pronouns for clarity).
Many types of depression are related to a medication or a physical condition that can be treated. It is important to encourage someone that may be depressed to contact her Primary Care Physician (PCP) and make an appointment for a complete physical, to rule-out any physical causes. The person should be sure to let their PCP know if they are taking any medications, whether pharmaceutical or natural. It is also important to know if there is a family history of depression as there can be a genetic component. Depression can have a biochemical root. The more one understands how chemicals and hormones work in the body, the better prepared they can be to have a plan of attack to fight depression.
The depressed mind does not work the same way as the healthy mind. An important difference is that the depressed mind easily believes lies, especially about self-worth and worth to others. Thinking errors run rampant in a depressed woman’s way of thinking. A woman who is depressed will generally perceive an event or situation very differently because she views through a depressed lens, which is foggy and unclear. Most of us are able to talk a situation through in our heads and toss out the faulty thinking. For a depressed person this is much more difficult and sometimes even seems impossible.
Communication with people in general is difficult for those who are depressed. Depression makes women want to stay isolated. Women who struggle with depression tend to want to stay in their homes, not attend social events, and even ignore phone calls. They may even retreat from family members within the home, preferring to spend much of their time alone. As difficult as communication is when depressed, it should still be encouraged. As a woman shares her thoughts, feelings and anxieties with others, it can lessen the hold of depression, making it easier to manage.
Knowing the symptoms of depression will enable a woman to more clearly discern if she meets the criteria for depression. First, rule out physical causes. Secondly, know referrals and resources. Guide women to get the help they will need. This may include a pastor, professional therapist, and/or psychiatrist.
There is more to life than just living and breathing. There is something deep within each person that longs for thriving instead of just surviving. As important as it is to understand a woman’s mind and body, the spiritual component must not be forgotten. All three aspects of her existence–body, mind, and soul–are important to examine and nurture. God often feels far away and her depressed mind tells her that no one really cares for her, not even God.
Shepherds can give the message that they will not give up on the person who is depressed and are present to aid in the fight. “I care” can be a powerful message.
The next blog will focus on specific DO’s and DON’T’s for shepherding people who are experiencing depression.
Stay tuned for the rest of Susan’s story.
(Taken from “Depression” by Chantelle Dockter, licensed professional counselor who specializes in women’s issues, in Shepherding Women in Pain.)