Depression is defined as, “a mood disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty with thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal thoughts or an attempt to commit suicide” (Merriam Webster). A close friend of mine battles depression and would describe it is, “a debilitating mood that makes it hard to get out of the bed in the morning, a desire to sleep all the time, inability to experience joy, and apathy towards life.” Due to its prevalent occurrence among several people groups throughout history, depression is known as the “common cold of mental illnesses” and has been called “the most widespread, serious, and costly psychiatric disease afflicting humankind today” (Fairchild). Depression affects people of all ages, races, and economic as well as religious backgrounds.
When looking at the bible, one finds that even biblical characters were not immune to depressed moods. For example, Moses, Elijah, and Job became so depressed at some point during their ministries that they wished they would die (Numbers 11:15, 1 Kings 19:4, and Job 3:20-21). Jesus himself experienced great grief due to his compassion, concern, and vast sense of disappointment over the sins of the world and their fatal consequences.
Though it often goes by different names, depression infects many Christians as well. That statement may surprise some since the typical Christ follower is often pictured as a happy-go-lucky, carefree, always smiling type of individual. No one is immune to depression. Everyone goes through difficult times and if the feelings associated with these times are not dealt with properly, an individual can find him or herself in a state of depression. As a pastor, without a doubt, there will be people in one’s congregation who struggle with depression and are in need of pastoral counsel. In fact, pastors themselves may find themselves battling depression from time to time. Depression can reveal itself in a variety ways and it is important to recognize its symptoms:
1. Depressed mood, sadness, irritability
2. Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
3. Considerable weight loss or gain, change in appetite
4. Change in sleeping patterns (most common result is early waking)
5. Change in movement (individual seems to “slow down”)
6. Fatigue and loss of energy
7. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
8. Difficulty in concentration
9. Suicidal thoughts and acts
A depressed individual may not experience all of these symptoms, but will usually exhibit five or more when depressed. Just because a Christian is experiencing sorrow or grief does not mean they have depression. Through the hills and valleys of life, these emotions are normal for a Christian to feel at times. Dealing with brokenness is an expected part of living in a fallen world. According to the American Psychological Association, “persons must exhibit at least five...