I remember when a woman in my Bible study asked for prayer for depression.  A silence fell over the group. Five minutes passed. No one spoke or responded.  She glanced at the floor.  All I did was offer a word of support and encouragement.  To my surprise, three other women talked about their depression as well.  Others informed the group they were on medication.  Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief and we got down to some serious prayer and study.

Awhile back, I posted on my Facebook page a question, “Is it easy to talk about depression in the church?” The overwhelming response to the question was, “No.” In fact, the church was the last place most people felt they could discuss this subject that affects 1 out of 10 people in our country. We need to do better. We need to understand what depression is and how it is treated.

Depression affects millions of people and impacts how they interact with others, sleep, eat and think about the world. It is more common in people with a family history of mental illness, suggesting genetic involvement and heritable traits. And people with depression experience biological changes in their brains. Brain chemicals go out of balance and hormone changes can create depressive symptoms.

There are multiple causes for depression. Traumatic life events such as childhood trauma, death, loss, financial pressures and stress that strains a person’s ability to cope can play a role. Certain personality traits make a person more susceptible to depression. Medication side-effects can cause depression.  For example, a common medication like Accutane used to treat acne has a side effect of depression in some people.

Depression can also be a result of medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, Cushing’s, heart disease, sleep apnea, strokes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, hormonal imbalances, HIV and AIDS, cancer, autoimmune disorders, seizure disorders and chronic pain. Depression is also associated with substance abuse and withdrawal from long-term use of many drugs such as cocaine, sedatives, narcotics and steroids.

And while the causes of depression are complicated and numerous, on-going attention and treatment are needed. We know the signs–difficulty concentrating, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, insomnia or excessive sleeping, loss of pleasure, overeating or appetite changes, sad, anxious or empty feelings, and thoughts of suicide. And we know that several of our church leaders and congregants have died by suicide.

If you struggle with depression, don’t do so in silence. Tell your physician or a mental health professional and get the help you need. Let’s all be a part of making the church aware that people in our congregations struggle in this area and need to discuss depression without the stigma attached or being accused of having little faith. Based on all the possible ways people can experience depression, don’t judge, rather love and encourage people to get help.

Clinical depression