Psychology and Theology: Depression


           The DSM-IV (now in a fifth edition) is a manual detailing the criteria needed to help clinicians diagnose and treat multitudes of psychiatric disorders in their clients.  The most highly diagnosed realm within this manual is the Mood Disorders, which consist of depression diagnoses of various types.  You see, there are ten different classifications of depressions, each with so many overlapping symptoms that it’s nearly impossible to differentiate.  Besides, in the real world of inpatient psychiatric care, no distinction is made, and mostly everybody there is diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, the most severe form of the condition.  I guess by the time one needs to be admitted for depression, it’s major.

            Of course, many more people experience depression and never reach the wards of an inpatient psych-unit.  Some people have periods of melancholy and sadness while others allow it to get worse to the point where they are ultimately overcome by their state of mind that they are debilitated.  Let me make two points very clear.  I did say a moment ago that people “allow their depression to get worse,” and I also said that depression was a “state of mind.” 

           Your mind is different from your brain.  Epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease are neurological problems from a compromised brain, but your emotions and feelings are not always the result of a compromised brain.  Doctors will argue that there are chemical imbalances that cause depression.  I say it’s depression that causes the chemical imbalance, if one truly exists, and here’s why I make that argument.  God created our bodies to REACT to outside stimuli.  When we cut ourselves, our body reacts to begin what’s called a “clotting cascade” that will eventually seal the cut from continuously bleeding.  Also, fear is an outside stimulus that causes us to have an increased heart rate and heightened senses ready to flee or fight.  And there are so many more examples.  So why is it that I should believe in this case that a chemical release by the body PRECEEDS the response.  Just as fear is a response to an outside stimulus, the feeling of depression  is also because of an outside stimulus that can induce chemical imbalances, but these imbalances are simply a RESPONSE to depression and NOT the cause.  You’ll see in a moment why I firmly hold to this belief, and I think it’s the Biblical stance on the issue.

           Of course depression is so important to understand and to be alert for in ourselves as well as those we love because, if not dealt with, it can get out of control and lead to people being unproductive at best or cause people, at its worse, to decide life is not worth living.  Depression is the leading reason people seek counseling.  One report had office visits for depression rising from 11-million per year to 20-million per year in just a five-year period.  And it’s not going to go down anytime soon, not with the way society is getting more and more godless.  So many people have nothing to pin their hopes on and consequently their lives become hopeless and they seek counseling.  Therefore, let’s call depression what it is at its root…hopelessness.

           The following points are what I want to stress to you the reader, whether you’re a parent of a school-aged child or whether you are an young adult or older adult.  I’m going to work the rest of the article on the premise that we create our own hopelessness.  In fact, we create our own states that lead to hopelessness, and again, hopelessness is synonymous with depression.  What I’m trying to say is that we are the ones who bring about our depressions.  Whether it’s the things we do, the unfulfilled desires we have, the belief that life is unfair, whatever it is, we have the ability to create a pity-party that can eventually get out of hand.

         A few examples include a study done on women in New Zealand who had gone through getting an abortion, after which 42% of them experienced major depression.  When the population at large in the United States is only 5% depressed, there is only one thing that can account for the higher percentage of depressed people having gone through with an abortion, and it’s just that…the abortion…it’s what they did that contributed the their feeling depressed. 

         I read a Christian’s testimony which spoke of persistent depression to the point where this gentleman would “go to bed depressed and wake up depressed.”  But he is careful to point out this depression coincided with a long period of drug use, unemployment, incarcerations and drunkenness.  Again, this gentleman rightfully expresses the fact that the things he was doing led him to lose hope and become depressed.

         See, there’s a big difference between calling depression a state we ourselves create versus a disease where we are but helpless victims who are granted a reprieve from needing to claim personal responsibility for anything.  And this is important when it comes to being screened for depression.  Just look at one screening tool used at schools.  It’s called TeenScreen.  The creators of this screening tool claim that about one-third of students screened show some signs of mental health problems.  About 15% of the total number of students screened is referred to professional resources for follow-up treatment.  These adolescents are probably not being asked, “So what have you been doing to contribute to these feelings you’ve been experiencing?”  But these adolescents should be asked these questions or else some teens may become one of the 5000 adolescents that commit suicide each year, which is the second leading cause of death among that age group.  One report estimates that as many as 13 young adults each day don’t consider life to be worth living.  But it’s not just for the young. The fact is that the age group with the most successful suicides happens to be professional 50-somethings.  Also reported in this study is the finding that among women, housewives are the most likely to commit suicide, and that women attempt suicide twice as many times as men.

          I bring up suicide, but only briefly to make a couple of points.  First, it’s the ultimate tragedy of untreated depression that comes from people developing a sense of hopelessness and seeking a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  Second, there are seven people in the Bible who committed suicide, but because of the states they created.  They created their own depression and feelings of hopelessness and their suicides were the answers to the feelings they were experiencing as a result of the things they had done.

1.  Abimalech (Judges 9) was arrogant and evil and killed many of his siblings to become king of Israel.  He got careless and eventually was severely wounded by a woman in the town of Thebez.  Facing his imminent death, he requested his soldier to kill him, a form of assisted suicide if you will.

2.  Samson (Judges 16) had been dedicated to God by his parents at an early age.  He eventually disgraced his parents by being reduced to so little because of all the debauchery he involved himself in.  If he was feeling guilt at the time of his death, he may have been depressed to a certain degree and the only thing he wanted to do was to atone for what he had done by pulling down the temple and killing everyone in it, including himself.

3. Saul (1st Samuel 31) was a great first king of Israel but eventually departed from the things of God and began meddling in areas that he did not belong getting involved in.  God rose up David during this time and Saul became frustrated over David’s God-ordained rise to prominence.  He went to war with the Philistines and, like Abimilech, was mortally wounded.  Not wanting to be tortured, he killed himself with his own sword.

4. Saul’s fellow soldier (1st Samuel 31) had declined Saul’s request to finish him off, therefore forcing Saul to kill himself with his own sword.  Now, among the Philistines, his own death was certain, and, probably feeling distraught and hopeless at the fact he is without his king to lead into battle, he simply chose how and when he would die.

5. Ahithophel (2nd Samuel 17) was a trusted advisor to king David, but he was also a spy.  He conspired with the enemy against David but, the enemy did not carry out his plan, and David was assured victory.  He feared being eventually found out to be a spy and decided death was going to be less traumatic than facing David and possibly being tortured or punished and shamed in some way…so he hung himself.

6. Zimri (1st Kings 16) killed the current king he served under (Elah) and assumed power for a mere week.  The soldiers from Elah’s army came against Zimri and, again, facing certain defeat, torture, or death, he burnt down the palace with himself inside.

7. Judas (Matthew 27) betrayed Jesus, and being under the influence of the devil (John 13:27) hung himself after being rejected and turned down and abandoned by the chief priests.

          In every case, the feelings of hopelessness, depression, and life not worth living were preceded by actions these men had chosen to do.  Abimilech put himself in a position God did not give him.  Samson had lived recklessly, eventually becoming a slave, and being powerless, he was put on display in the temple he would eventually destroy.  He got away from God and was reduced to a mere form of the man he once was.  When Saul began meddling in the affairs of the priests and began doing things God did not want him doing, God rose up another man who would do what He asked.  Eventually Saul went where God did not want him to go and fight the Philistines.  Saul’s fellow soldier felt abandoned and instead of looking to God, saw no one to help him in the battle and became hopeless.  Ahithophel betrayed David and sold out to the enemy only to be tossed aside and left with the hopeless reality that things for him would get very bad if he remained alive.  Zimri made a fool of himself by killing all the members of Elah’s family and proclaiming power for about a week before the army advanced against him and the thought of facing punishment for his action made death seem more tolerable.  And as for Judas, well, whatever motivated him to betray Jesus was gone as soon as the act had taken place…he was then wandering aimlessly with no friends and eventually chose death.

         We can only speculate on the true nature of the feelings each of these seven men felt at the moment of their suicides, but one thing is for sure…God took the time to incorporate their stories for us in Scripture for a reason.  The reason, I believe, is this:  They had all done something to put themselves in that state of mind where they chose death over living.  Nowhere else in God’s recorded Word has anyone else committed suicide because of the trials God brought their way.  Job suffered great loss and never killed himself.  Paul suffered greatly for the cause of Christ and never killed himself.  John, exiled on the Island of Patmos never felt hopeless and killed himself.  The numbers of Christians martyred in the book of Acts never felt hopeless and killed themselves.

         So what’s the difference?  The latter group recognized God’s suffering and grew from it and drew strength from God in those troubling times.  The examples God gives us of those who killed themselves all couldn’t face the consequences of their actions and became cowardly in their final moments.  The Bible does not even hint that mental illness played a role in being depressed and having feelings of hopelessness.  Nope, each person in God’s Word brought it upon themselves as a result of the ungodly actions and decisions of which they had been a part.

           It’s more likely the case that depression and hopelessness in today’s society is a direct result of sin which leads to activities that have severe consequences which leads to feelings of guilt which leads to having to decide between facing the one’s we sinned against or fight to the very end to save our pride and eventually lose everything, including one’s life.  Now if you think that’s simplifying things too much to boil it down to refusing to give into our pride and make amends consider this…the only difference between the cited examples of those who killed themselves and the prodigal son is this…the prodigal son recognized he had put himself in the position he was in because of poor choices made on his part.  What did he do?  He went back to his father in humility and said what???  “Father, I have sinned against thee and heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son” (Luke 15:21).  He was humbled, contrite, and enjoyed restoration with the one he sinned against.  It’s not a definite that would have happened in the cases of the others who killed themselves, but one thing is for certain…we’ll never know…

This entry was posted in Character, depression, Family, psychology, sin, stress, suffering, suicide and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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