When people talk about depression, they sometimes employ euphemisms like dark tunnel, fog, and walls closing in to help others understand how they feel. Yet thinking beyond that emotional state—of life beyond the fog—is sometimes difficult. I know, because I have been there, having been diagnosed with depression. Maybe you know someone who is depressed. If so, the story of Nehemiah has some surprising insight. Yes, that Nehemiah, who led the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, though he’d never lived there. And perhaps like Nehemiah, though you’ve never experienced life in the barren land of depression, you weep, as he did, wanting to help a family member or friend who has taken up residence there.
Thinking of life beyond the fog, I’d like to submit for your prayerful consideration Nehemiah’s example of rebuilding the broken wall of Jerusalem. To start, let’s define depression.
Did you know that there are different types of depression? One is situational—based on life events (loss of a loved one; divorce; loss of a dream). Situational depression doesn’t last as long as a second type of depression: clinical. The National Institute of Mental Health defines clinical depression this way:
“Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities.”
Some of the symptoms of clinical depression include weariness, decreased interest in activities you usually enjoy, anxiety, anger over minor issues, suicidal thoughts, inability to sleep. A common belief is that clinical depression is caused by a chemical imbalance—a depletion of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain. But this is not always the case.
Now let’s talk about walls. In Bible times and later centuries, walls were a valued means of protection to keep marauding enemy armies from harming the people within. Depression can be compared to a city with a broken wall—a highly vulnerable state. Nehemiah’s compassion prompted him to respond. When we have friends or relatives with clinical depression, we might also feel prompted to act in some way, because like Nehemiah, we hate to see them suffer. But have you ever said something to someone that you thought would quickly rally that person, only to make it worse? The most well-meaning among us has probably said something like, “Please snap out of it” or “Try to think about something else” and quickly discerned that these statements lack the power to bring about change. They might also cause major harm, especially toward someone with suicidal thoughts. Sometimes emotions feel too complex for a person to express coherently. Even for those who are trying to sympathize, finding the right words that are adequately supportive can be difficult.
That’s why Nehemiah’s example is so important. After being informed by his brother and others about the situation (Nehemiah 1:2–3), Nehemiah didn’t rush off without a plan. He prayed first, knowing that God’s wisdom was critical in this situation. Also, he had an obligation to the king and couldn’t drop that heedlessly. After prayer, he sought the right resources to accomplish his mission—resources the king could provide—along with the king’s permission to go. Armed with resources and a plan, Nehemiah then personally assessed the situation, rather than relying on information gained through his brother.
So as you consider rebuilding the wall that depression and life’s circumstances have leveled—a task that will take time—consider:
Prayer. Sometimes people look at the suggestion to pray as a pat answer or a last resort. But prayer is a reminder that when we feel helpless, help is within reach. That’s why we have the assurance that when we don’t know how to pray or what to do, the Holy Spirit prays for us (Romans 8:26). Prayer connects us with the God who promises to restore (Isaiah 40:31) and provide wisdom (James 1:5). But restoration is a process, rather than a quick fix.
So often we turn to others first, rather than to God, because, let’s face it, we’re human and people have skin on. But even the wisest humans can’t see around every corner like God can. He can steer you in the direction where the hope He’s already provided can be found. Nehemiah made prayer a habit out of necessity because of the constant threats of the enemy. Sometimes we lull ourselves into thinking that if we don’t see immediate danger (“He seems down, but otherwise okay; he hasn’t threatened suicide”), we don’t need to pray or that we only need to pray once and that’s that. But Jesus said to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7-8). Paul said to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV).
Seeking the right resources and having a plan. After praying, Nehemiah knew what he needed to do next. Whether the depression is situational or clinical will determine the resources needed and the plans needed to assist your friend or loved one. If you’ve partnered with God in prayer, He might bring to mind the wisdom of trusted individuals (pastors, social workers, or some other trained counselors) who are the next step in the process toward your loved one’s restoration. There is wisdom in “a multitude of counselors” as Proverbs 15:22 (NKJV) states. But don’t think of this step in the process as something that only your loved one needs. Pray about the support you also might need for yourself as you’re supporting your loved one.
In the case of clinical depression, a next step might be to encourage your friend or loved one to talk to a doctor, a licensed therapist, and/or to take medication in order to more effectively cope.
How can you know when it is time for your friend or family member to seek talk therapy? Gia Washington, a licensed clinical professional counselor, and Director of Community Education at Sertoma Centre, Inc. explained, “It is time for a family member or friend to seek therapy when you notice that their symptoms are affecting their thoughts, emotions and behavior and making it difficult for them to function.
Questions to think about—signs of depression:
- Is your loved one expressing hopelessness or helplessness?
- Is he/she crying a lot or emotionally withdrawn?
- Is he/she having difficulty managing responsibilities at work, school or home? Have his/her personal relationships been affected by these symptoms?
“If you are noticing these signs and symptoms,” Gia added, “you might suggest they consider first talking to their primary care physician to rule out the depressive symptoms being caused by medication or other ailments. When that has been ruled out, you might suggest that your loved one seek counseling and offer to assist them in making the appointment.”
So, how does therapy help? Gia responded that therapy teaches a person “how to challenge negative thoughts that can increase feelings of depression. When we can’t change a situation, we can sometimes find relief in changing how we view the situation.”
But what if an antidepressant is needed? Ben Pyykkonen, Clinical Psychology Programs Director and Associate Professor of Psychology at Wheaton College commented, “Antidepressants can provide the underlying chemicals/neurotransmitters that supports effective neural activity as it relates to potential depressive thoughts and feelings.”
He added, “I often describe the effect of these medications as giving someone the emotional and cognitive space that affords them the opportunity to take a more proactive approach to the engagement that they have with the world, their thoughts, and feelings.”
Nehemiah and his workers rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem in fifty-two days. Every day held challenges he had to face with prayer, a weapon or two, and a single-minded goal of getting the wall done. While the process of rebuilding the wall around a soul damaged by life’s destructive forces doesn’t have a set time frame, you have the assurance that as you walk this road with your loved one, you have an advocate. God promises to never leave nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). This is a light to guide us through the murkiest fog.
Causes Of Depression: Beyond Chemical Imbalances And Genetics by Surchi Chandra, MD
Situational depression or clinical depression?
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