At some point, everyone experiences feeling depressed or knows someone who is suffering from depression. Children, adolescents, and in some cases, even infants can experience depression. Whether we experience it as a young person or as an older adult, it's important to know the key symptoms of depression, but also be aware that depression may disguise itself. Depression affects a person emotionally, but also physically and spiritually. Depression affects the whole person.
We typically associate depression with emotional symptoms, such as sadness, withdrawal, or an inability to enjoy good things. Children will sometimes experience the same symptoms as adults including sadness and low mood. Children may be quicker to act out or display angry behavior. Strong emotional symptoms can result in a loss of interest in school or activities a person once enjoyed and affect an adult or child’s ability to function at home, work, or school.
Whether mild or severe, remember that God made us as both flesh and spirit. Our bodies, emotions, and spirits work together and influence one another. Depression is a medical condition that affects our physical brains, and is both expressed through and influenced by emotional and spiritual circumstances. Good health means tending to all these aspects of how God created us--spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Depression can express symptoms in physical and spiritual struggles. If you think of depression as just being emotionally sad, you may not connect these symptoms quickly.
Physically, depression can also affect sleep and appetite. If you or a child has aches, pain, or headaches that do not respond to treatment, depression may be the cause. It is common for people to visit their healthcare provider about physical symptoms, not realizing that depression is the root cause.
Treating depression may well include physical therapies, from getting better exercise to pharmaceuticals that better regulate brain compounds.
A common symptom of depression is a feeling that God is absent. Children and adults alike may wonder where God is during this point in their lives. As a sufferer, caregiver, or parent, this sense of absence can feel disheartening--just when one hopes to look to God for comfort, it feels like he is silent. However, take comfort in knowing that this is a normal aspect of depression. God is not gone, but our ability to feel him is dulled by the disease. Recognize this as an opportunity to provide support and encouragement from God’s word. I believe John 16:33 relates perfectly in this case, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Men and women will both likely experience classic symptoms of depression, including feelings of hopelessness, low energy, or difficulty concentrating, to name a few. However, often the main difference is in the way the depression is presented. Men will more likely deny their feelings or hide them from others, while women will be more verbally articulate. Men may need more encouragement to verbally name what they're feeling and reflect on why. It may help to ask them more about losses and disappointments, and then explore grief, anger, pain, and sadness.
As men and women approach middle-adulthood, around ages 45-65, circumstantial issues such as job loss, loss of a loved one, or even substance abuse can impact a person’s health and faith. It's often a time of looking back, wondering if this is the life I intended to have, combined with looking forward, realizing the relentless approach of old age. It's also a time of caring for both young-adult children and older-adult parents. It can also be a time of renewal, attempting some new challenges, and discerning of what's worth effort in life and what is not.
It can be easy for a person to become distant from God during this time and depend on himself or others for support. While God will surround us with support from our loved ones during these times, the truth of the matter is God wants us to first come to him. Proverbs 3:5-6 says exactly this, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
The elderly’s experience of depression often correlates with a sense of loss. This may include the loss of loved ones, as the generation ahead of them disappears and their own peers begin to pass away. It may also include loss of independence due to loss of major faculties. Losing one’s independence can be devastating, not only due to the practicalities of living with disability but also the challenges to one's pride and identity as a self-competent adult.
As a caregiver, it would be important to spend additional quality time with your loved one. Tell stories and reminisce about the past. This is a time for reflection or even celebration of past accomplishments and God's faithfulness.
Another crucial factor is that depression can sometimes look like dementia in the elderly, and it is important to get an accurate diagnosis from a health care professional so that treatment for the proper disease is not delayed.
Everyone’s experience will be unique, depending on life's factors. But God is faithful and calls us to depend on him more during this dark and difficult time. When we are faced with feelings of desperation, helplessness, or hopelessness, we can turn to God. It is during these times of struggle that God heightens our awareness and increases our dependency upon him. “Therefore we do not lose heart, though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly, we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, I urge you to place your hope in God’s hands as he has now provided you with an opportunity to reach out and get help. Consult your doctor and a skilled Christian therapist in your community to help you find the path to healing. I would also like to add that as a Christian, I have personally experienced depression and its attacks on the strongholds of my faith. However, no matter how devastating or oppressive it may be, God’s love for us will always be greater. “Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19-21 NCV).
Rev. Deb Koster