Winning the Battle Against Depression
“THE most overwhelming thing that I had to deal with,” confessed Lola, “was the guilt of feeling hopeless since, as one of Jehovah’s servants, I thought I should not feel that way.” This common misunderstanding is often the first foe a depressed Christian must defeat. Lola added: “Once I quit mentally beating myself for feeling the way I did and concentrated on getting well, I could better cope with the depression.” Yes, depression in itself is no reason for you to think that you have failed God.
As mentioned in the previous article, the cause of depression may be physiological. In 1915, long before the recent research linking many physical ills with depression, The Watch Tower stated: “This heaviness of spirit, or feeling of loneliness and depression, is natural at times to all mankind . . . [It is] accentuated to some extent by the condition of physical health.” Thus, if a depressed mood lingers, a checkup by a doctor may be helpful. If the situation is extreme, one may want to have the disorder treated by a professional who specializes in depression.a
But even when the cause is not physical, it is unrealistic to expect that one of God’s servants will never be sad or discouraged. Just consider how faithful Hannah became ‘bitter of soul and wept greatly.’ (1 Samuel 1:7, 10) Nehemiah also ‘wept and mourned for days’ and had “gloominess of heart.” (Nehemiah 1:4; 2:2) Job despised his life and felt that God had abandoned him. (Job 10:1; 29:2, 4, 5) King David said that his spirit fainted away within him and that his heart became numbed. (Psalm 143:4) And the apostle Paul spoke of having “fears within” and being “laid low” or “thrown down” emotionally.—2 Corinthians 4:9; 7:5, 6.
Though all of these were faithful servants of God, various distresses, apprehensions, or bitter disappointments had for a time caused them sorrow. Yet, God had not abandoned them or taken away his holy spirit. Their depressed mood was not due to spiritual failure. At a time when David was afflicted, he pleaded in prayer: “Make the soul of your servant rejoice.” God comforted David during this ‘day of distress’ and helped him, in time, to rejoice. (Psalm 86:1, 4, 7) Jehovah will likewise help his servants now.
Since depression is not in itself proof of either spiritual failure or mental weakness, a Christian plagued with it should not keep silent because of embarrassment. Rather, he should take one of the most important steps in fighting this disorder. What is that?
Pour Out Your Feelings
He should talk to someone about it. Proverbs 12:25 states: “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down, but the good word is what makes it rejoice.” No other human can know the intensity of the anxious care in your heart unless you open up and talk about it. By confiding in an empathetic person who can help, you will likely learn that others have had similar feelings and problems. Also, putting feelings into words is a healing process, for it relieves the heart to give expression to the painful experience rather than bottle it up. Therefore, depressed souls should confide in a marriage mate, a parent, or a compassionate and spiritually qualified friend.—Galatians 6:1.
Part of Marie’s problem (mentioned in the previous article) was that she bottled up the troubling emotions that led to her depression. “Over the years, I had put up such a pretense,” she said. “Others would never dream that I had such trouble dealing with these feelings of worthlessness.” But Marie opened up to an elder in the congregation. The elder through discerning questions ‘drew up’ from her heart the anxiety she carried and helped her to understand herself better. (Proverbs 20:5) His good words from the Scriptures gave her reassurance. “For the first time, I began to get help to deal with certain feelings that contributed to my depression,” explained Marie.
So talking to an understanding elder may provide spiritually refreshing “water” to one whose “soul is like an exhausted land.” (Isaiah 32:1, 2; Psalm 143:6) A discerning spiritual counselor may even help you to see how you can take practical steps to deal with what you might have considered to be a hopeless situation. (Proverbs 24:6) But more is needed than just confiding in another.
Recognize Your Real Value
Feelings of worthlessness are a big factor in depression. Perhaps because of an unhappy childhood, some Christians have low self-esteem. But even though physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in the past has left emotional scars, this does not change a person’s worth. Thus, you must strive to have a balanced view of your true value as a person. “I would say to every one of you,” urged the apostle Paul, “not to estimate himself above his real value, but to make a sober rating of himself.” (Romans 12:3, Charles B. Williams) While guarding against arrogance, you should try not to go to the other extreme. Those who have a relationship with God are precious, desirable to him, for he selects humans to become his “special property.” What an outstanding privilege!—Malachi 3:17; Haggai 2:7.
Also, what an honor to be “God’s fellow workers” by engaging in the Christian work of disciple making. (1 Corinthians 3:9; Matthew 28:19, 20) Many depressed Christians have found that this work builds self-worth. “Even after becoming a Christian, I felt very inadequate,” admitted Marie. Still, she persisted in the preaching work, and one day she met a brain-damaged young woman who wanted to be taught the Bible. “She needed someone who would be patient with her, since she was a slow learner,” said Marie. “Because she took so much of my attention, I forgot about myself and my inadequacies. She needed my help, and I realized that I could give it to her in Jehovah’s strength. Seeing her get baptized encouraged me beyond words. My self-esteem grew, and the serious depression vanished for good.” How true that “the one freely watering others will himself also be freely watered”!—Proverbs 11:25.
Still, many depressed persons respond as did a severely depressed Christian woman, who admitted: “Though I work very hard to clean and cook and to be hospitable, I turn around and pick myself to pieces about every little fault.” Such unreasonable faultfinding greatly undermines self-esteem. Remember that our God is understanding and does “not for all time keep finding fault.” (Psalm 103:8-10, 14) If Jehovah, who has a higher sense of right than we have, does not badger us about every little fault and is willing to show such forbearance, should we not endeavor to imitate him in our dealings with ourselves?
All of us have flaws and weaknesses. Yet, we have strengths as well. The apostle Paul did not expect excellence of himself in all his endeavors. “Even if I am unskilled in speech, I certainly am not in knowledge,” he stated. Paul did not feel inferior simply because he may not have excelled as a public speaker. (2 Corinthians 11:6) Likewise, depressed ones should focus on the things that they do well.
“Wisdom is with the modest ones,” or with those who recognize and accept their limitations. (Proverbs 11:2) Each of us is a unique soul with differing circumstances, physical stamina, and abilities. As you serve Jehovah whole-souled, doing what you can, he is pleased. (Mark 12:30-33) God is not one who is never satisfied with the efforts of his devoted worshipers. Leora, a Christian who successfully fought her depression, said: “I do not do as well as everybody else in some things, such as presentations in the field ministry. But I am trying. What I do is my best.”
Handling Mistakes and Misunderstandings
What, though, if you make a serious mistake? Perhaps you feel like King David, who ‘walked about sad all day long’ because of his errors, or sin. But this very feeling may be evidence that you have not gone too far and committed an unforgivable sin! (Psalm 38:3-6, 8) Feelings of guilt may show that one who has sinned has an honest heart and a good conscience. So how can the guilt be handled? Well, have you prayed for God’s forgiveness and taken steps to right the wrong? (2 Corinthians 7:9-11) If so, have faith in the mercy of the One who forgives in a large way, while determining not to repeat the sin. (Isaiah 55:7) If you have been disciplined, do not ‘give out when you are corrected, for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.’ (Hebrews 12:5, 6) Such correction has the purpose of helping to reestablish a straying sheep. It does not detract from his value as a person.
Even if our own heart condemns us, we need not conclude that Jehovah has condemned us. “We shall assure our hearts before him as regards whatever our hearts may condemn us in, because God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” (1 John 3:19, 20) Jehovah sees more than our sins and mistakes. He knows of extenuating circumstances, our whole life course, our motives and intentions. The greatness of his knowledge enables him to hear with sympathy our earnest prayers for forgiveness, as he heard David’s.
Misunderstandings with others and being overly concerned about having their approval also contribute to having a lack of self-worth, perhaps even to a feeling of being rejected. Because of imperfection, a fellow Christian may speak to you in a way that seems insensitive or unkind. Still, many misunderstandings can be cleared up by telling the person how you were affected by the remark. (Compare Matthew 5:23, 24.) Also, Solomon advised: “Do not give your heart to all the words that people may speak.” Why? “For your own heart well knows even many times that you, even you, have called down evil upon others.” (Ecclesiastes 7:21, 22) Do not unrealistically expect perfection of yourself or of your relationships with other imperfect humans. Be quick to forgive and put up with others.—Colossians 3:13.
Furthermore, your true value is not measured primarily by whether you are loved by others or not. Christ was “held . . . as of no account,” and he was ‘valued from [the] standpoint of others’ at very little. (Isaiah 53:3; Zechariah 11:13) Did this change his real worth or the way God valued him? No, for even if we were perfect, like Jesus, we could not please everyone.
Power to Endure
At times, serious depression may linger despite our efforts to overcome it. The emotional pain may even cause some Christians to feel as did Jonah: “My dying is better than my being alive.” (Jonah 4:1-3) Yet, his anguish was not permanent. He got over it. So if depression makes your life seem unbearable, remember that it is like the tribulation that Paul said was “temporary.” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9, 16-18) It will come to an end! No situation is hopeless. Jehovah promises “to revive the heart of those who are in pain.”—Isaiah 57:15, Lamsa.
Never stop praying, even if your prayers seem in vain. David pleaded: “Do hear, O God, my entreating cry . . . when my heart grows feeble. Onto a rock that is higher than I am may you lead me.” (Psalm 61:1, 2) How does God lead us to an inner confidence that seems inaccessible by our own strength? Eileen, who has struggled with depression for years, answers: “Jehovah has not let me give up. This gives me the hope that if I keep on trying, he will keep on helping. Knowing the truth of the Bible has literally kept me alive. Through many different ways—prayer, the ministry, meetings, the publications, family, and friends—Jehovah has provided strength for me to keep trying.”
View the disorder as a test of your faith. “You can trust God,” the apostle Paul assures us. “He will not let you be tested more than you can stand. But when you are tested, He will also make a way out so that you can bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, Beck) Yes, God will give you “power beyond what is normal” to carry any emotional load.—2 Corinthians 4:7.
A New World Without Depression!
God has promised soon to remove, by means of his heavenly Kingdom, all the depressing conditions on our earth. His Word declares: “I am creating new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart. But exult, you people, and be joyful forever in what I am creating.” (Isaiah 65:17, 18) These words were initially fulfilled back in 537 B.C.E., at the time when the ancient nation of Israel was restored to its homeland. His people then sang: “We became like those who were dreaming. At that time our mouth came to be filled with laughter, and our tongue with a joyful cry.” (Psalm 126:1, 2) How much grander will be the soon-to-be-realized final fulfillment of this heartwarming prophecy in God’s new world!—2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4.
Under God’s Kingdom (the “new heavens”), a righteous society of people on earth (the “new earth”) will be restored to perfect emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Not that these ones will have no recollection of the past, but in view of all the pleasant things they will then have to think about and to rejoice over, there will be no reason for them to call to mind or to focus on all the sad experiences of the past. Imagine, each morning to awaken with a crystal-clear mind, eager to get on with the day’s activity—no longer hampered by a depressed state!
Fully convinced of the reality of this hope, Lola (mentioned at the outset), said: “Remembering that Jehovah’s Kingdom will straighten out this problem was my greatest help. I knew that the depression would not last forever.” Yes, you can be sure that God soon will make possible absolute victory over depression!
a See “Attacking Major Depression—Professional Treatments” in the October 22, 1981, issue of Awake!