What is Depression?
What is depression? It’s the proverbial elephant in the room. Nobody wants to say the word “depression”. And forget about relating it to themselves. Have you ever noticed that synonyms for depression are accepted?
Nobody minds when you feel blue, sad, down, bummed or unhappy, but whatever you do, don’t say depressed. When the word depressed pops up, people stop, remain still and rack their brains for something to say.
Because there is a stigma attached to depression and it’s especially strong in the Christian community. But since research says 1 in 5 will struggle with depression maybe it’s worth taking a closer look?
Even if you are never part of that 5 – someone you know will be. In that case, take a closer look so you’re not that guy racking your brain for something to say. Instead, be equipped to come alongside… encouraging and supporting.
What is Depression: Statistics on Depression
Statistics on depression as a whole were astounding. These statistics on depression come from the World Health Organization.
• Depression is the most common mental health disorder.
• More than 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide.
• Depression is the leading cause of disability.
• Women more commonly suffer from depression than men.
• Less than half of all people affected by depression actually receive treatment.
Why take a closer look at depression? Three hundred million suffering from depression is roughly the population of the entire United States! These statistics are begging for a closer look at the question, what is depression?
What is Depression: Symptoms of Depression
The DSM (book doctors use to give a diagnosis of depression) gives the following information about symptoms of depression…
• Depressed mood (as identified by the person experiencing depression or observation of others).
• Loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities.
• Significant weight or appetite changes.
• Changes in sleep patterns (too little/too much).
• Psychomotor agitation such as restlessness or slowing of muscle movement.
• Loss of energy or fatigue.
• Feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem or inappropriate guilt.
• Difficulty thinking, concentrating or indecisiveness.
• Recurrent thoughts of death with or without a specific plan.
• Five or more of the above symptoms must be present in a 2 week period
• Symptoms cause significant distress or impact in important life areas.
• Not due to substance abuse or general medical conditions.
• Not better explained by bereavement.
5 Causes of Depression
There is no question that schedules are typically packed until busting at the seams. The busier our life, the easier it is for things to become unbalanced. We easily fall into poor sleeping and eating patterns. (More on living in the moment here.)
These two simple tasks of getting enough rest and eating healthy foods fuels our body. But, with limited hours in the day, we tend to underestimate the power of rest and eating well. We go to bed late and rise early to get more done. The fast food drive-through becomes our “go to” plan to help us maintain an unreasonable schedule.
The other thing that tends to go to the wayside when schedules flare up is relationships. We are made for relationship with God and others. Connection with others brings encouragement and community. (More on Christian self care here.)
2. Unhealthy Thought Patterns
Unhealthy thought patterns are the result of several things. First, our upbringing has an impact on our view of ourselves and the world around us. Second, the world and people around us have an impact on our thought patterns. In other words, negative thought patterns come from the inside as well as the outside.
Negative thought patterns can worsen with the onset of depression. This type of thinking can also be the cause of depression. Regardless, 100% of the time our thought life has room for improvement. For more on how to change negative thoughts check out this article. Also, download your free Bible study on taking every thought captive here.
Sin is such an icky word that we all would rather just not talk about it. In Christian communities it’s not uncommon to point to sin as the root cause of depression. This line of thinking has caused depression (and mental health in general) to become a stigma within the church.
Christians battling for hope and joy often view themselves as not having enough faith or assuming it’s something they did that caused the depression.
In his book, “Christians Get Depressed Too,” by Dave Murray, he does a beautiful job of covering spiritual depression. He states, “there is always a spiritual aspect to depression, usually secondary and consequential to the distressful emotions. Murray goes on to say that we must oppose the idea that depression in Christians is always caused by personal sin.
He even goes so far as to say that sin is rarely the result of depression in Christians. Murray points to unhealthy thought patterns and a stressful lifestyle as the most common causes of depression in Christians.
In the rare case that sin is the cause of depression, it is best described as a habitual repeat offense against God, that we know to be wrong, but persist in rebellion. An example of this would be the depression of King David (experienced following adultery and murder) in 2 Samuel, chapter 11.
I want to end with another quote by David Murray, “focus on spiritual origin is not helpful because we miss the point” …” and it causes us to seek the wrong solution” .
4. Chemical Imbalance or Medical Condition
Many people assume depression is solely caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. There are different schools of thought on this topic and I believe it would be arrogant to definitively join either camp.
It is important to know that there is no definitive test for determining whether or not there is a chemical imbalance in the brain. The diagnosis doctors give are based on patient report of symptoms, history and duration of symptoms.
That’s not to say there isn’t a chemical imbalance. I’m simply pointing to the fact that science hasn’t caught up to identify conclusively when it is a case of chemical imbalance and when it is not.
In terms of medication, many people find that anti-depressant medications are helpful. There are also studies showing a decrease in reported effectiveness. If considering medication, check out this article. In cases where anti-depressant medication is not effective, consider there may be another root cause.
Also, a quick note-there are general medical conditions that can cause feelings of depression such as, an imbalance of minerals, hypothyroidism, or anemia to name a few. Check with your doctor to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing depressed mood.
5. Bad Things Happen
A quick glance around you clearly demonstrates we live in a world were bad things happen. If you flip on the evening news on any given day you’re faced with the brokenness of the world around us. Sometimes bad things happened that we have no control over. The kind of things that leave us feeling raw and stripped of hope.
In these difficult seasons we find ourselves groping around for any shred of hope and joy. Yet it can seem out of reach, leaving us feeling depressed for extended periods of time. While it’s of little encouragement in the midst of the season , God will bring about purpose in the pain (more on that here).
What is Depression: Wrap Up
5 Causes of Depression Include:
- Stressful lifestyle
- Unhealthy thought patterns
- Chemical imbalance/medical condition
Keep in mind, regardless of the cause of depression, maintaining an emotionally and physically healthy lifestyle can alleviate symptoms. It will also be beneficial to begin establishing new healthy thought patterns check out more on that here. Seek support through your church, trusted friends or a therapist. Get a free 15 minute online consultation for therapy here.