Comfort for the Depressed
“All creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain together until now.” (Romans 8:22) Human suffering was great when that was written over 1,900 years ago. Many were depressed. Therefore, Christians were urged: “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls.”—1 Thessalonians 5:14.
Today, human distress is even greater, and more people than ever are depressed. But should that surprise us? Not really, for the Bible identifies these as “the last days” and calls them “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Jesus Christ foretold that during the last days, there would be “fearful sights.”—Luke 21:7-11; Matthew 24:3-14.
When people experience prolonged anxiety, fear, grief, or other such negative emotions, they often become depressed. The cause of depression or extreme sadness may be the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of a job, or an unrelenting sickness. People also become depressed when they develop a sense of worthlessness, when they feel they are a failure and have let everyone down. Anyone may be devastated by a stressful situation, but when a person develops a sense of hopelessness and is unable to see any way out of a bad situation, severe depression may result.
People in ancient times experienced similar feelings. Job suffered sickness and personal misfortune. He felt that God had abandoned him, so he expressed a loathing toward life. (Job 10:1; 29:2, 4, 5) Jacob was depressed over the apparent death of his son, refusing to be comforted and wishing to die. (Genesis 37:33-35) Feeling guilt over serious error, King David lamented: “All day long I have walked about sad. I have grown numb.”—Psalm 38:6, 8; 2 Corinthians 7:5, 6.
Today, many have become depressed because of overtaxing themselves, trying to follow a daily routine that is beyond their mental, emotional, and physical resources. Apparently stress, coupled with negative thoughts and emotions, can affect the body and contribute to a chemical imbalance in the brain, thus producing depression.—Compare Proverbs 14:30.
Help That They Need
Epaphroditus, a first-century Christian from Philippi, became “depressed because [his friends] heard he had fallen sick.” Epaphroditus, who had become sick after being sent to Rome by his friends with provisions for the apostle Paul, perhaps felt he had let his friends down and that they considered him a failure. (Philippians 2:25-27; 4:18) How did the apostle Paul help?
He sent Epaphroditus home with a letter to the Philippian friends that said: “Give [Epaphroditus] the customary welcome in the Lord with all joy; and keep holding men of that sort dear.” (Philippians 2:28-30) The fact that Paul spoke so highly of him and that the Philippians welcomed him with warmth and affection, surely must have consoled Epaphroditus and helped toward relieving his depression.
Without a doubt, the Bible’s advice to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls” is the very best. “You need to know that others care about you as a person,” said a woman who suffered from depression. “You need to hear someone say, ‘I understand; you’ll be all right.’”
The person who is depressed often needs to take the initiative by seeking out an empathetic person in whom to confide. This one should be a good listener and be very patient. He or she should avoid lecturing the depressed one or making judgmental statements, such as, ‘You shouldn’t feel like that’ or, ‘That’s the wrong attitude.’ The depressed person’s emotions are fragile, and such critical comments will only make him feel worse about himself.
One who is depressed may feel worthless. (Jonah 4:3) Yet, a person should remember that what really counts is how God values one. Men held Jesus Christ “as of no account,” but this did not change his real worth to God. (Isaiah 53:3) Be assured, just as God loves his dear Son, he loves you too.—John 3:16.
Jesus pitied those in distress and tried to help them see their individual worth. (Matthew 9:36; 11:28-30; 14:14) He explained that God values even small, insignificant sparrows. “Not one of them goes forgotten before God,” he said. How much more does he value humans who try to do his will! Of these Jesus said: “Even the hairs of your heads are all numbered.”—Luke 12:6, 7.
True, it may be hard for a person who is severely depressed, who is overwhelmed with his weaknesses and shortcomings, to believe that God so highly values him. He may feel certain that he is unworthy of God’s love and care. “Our hearts may condemn us,” God’s Word acknowledges. But is that the determining factor? No it is not. God realizes that sinful humans may think negatively and even condemn themselves. So his Word comforts them: “God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.”—1 John 3:19, 20.
Yes, our loving heavenly Father sees more than our sins and mistakes. He knows of extenuating circumstances, our whole life course, our motives and intentions. He knows that we inherited sin, sickness, and death and therefore have great limitations. The fact that we feel grieved and vexed with ourselves is in itself proof that we do not want to sin and have not gone too far. The Bible says that we were “subjected to futility” against our will. So God sympathizes with our miserable plight, and he compassionately takes into consideration our weaknesses.—Romans 5:12; 8:20.
“Jehovah is merciful and gracious,” we are assured. “As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us he has put our transgressions. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:8, 12, 14) Truly, Jehovah is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation.”—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.
The help depressed ones need the most comes from drawing close to their merciful God and accepting his invitation to ‘throw their burden upon him.’ He can indeed “revive the heart of the ones being crushed.” (Psalm 55:22; Isaiah 57:15) So God’s Word encourages prayer, saying: “Throw all your anxiety upon [Jehovah], because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Yes, by means of prayer and supplication persons can draw close to God and enjoy “the peace of God that excels all thought.”—Philippians 4:6, 7; Psalm 16:8, 9.
Practical adjustments in life-style can also help one overcome a depressed mood. Physical exercise, eating wholesome food, getting fresh air and sufficient rest, and avoiding excessive TV watching are all important. One woman has helped depressed ones by getting them to do vigorous walking. When a depressed lady said: “I don’t want to go for a walk,” the woman gently but firmly answered: “Yes, you’re going.” The woman reported: ‘We walked four miles [6 km]. When we returned, she was tired, but she felt better. You can’t believe how helpful vigorous exercise is until you try it.’
However, sometimes it is impossible to defeat depression completely, even when everything has been tried, including medical therapies. “I have tried everything,” a middle-aged woman said, “but the depression remains.” Similarly, it is now often impossible to heal the blind, the deaf, or the lame. Yet, depressed ones can find comfort and hope by regularly reading God’s Word, which provides the certain hope of permanent relief from all human ills.—Romans 12:12; 15:4.
When No One Will Be Depressed Again
When Jesus described the terrible things coming upon the earth in the last days, he added: “As these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:28) Jesus was talking about deliverance into God’s righteous new world, where “the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Romans 8:21.
What a relief it will be for humankind to be freed of the burdens of the past and to awaken each day with crystal-clear minds, eager to tackle the day’s activity! No longer will anyone be hampered by the cloud of depression. The sure promise to mankind is that God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:3, 4.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations are from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.