Friday, March 09, 2007

Depression and the body...

This the second of two posts of a few jumbled up notes from a seminar on depression. This section looks at the medical side of things, and was given by a Christian GP.

This GP said around 80% of her patients were stress/emotion/anxiety related cases. Now, stress is needed in balance. Too little and we're lazy, slack. The right amount and we perform well and stay alert.
Stress often comes in the form of adjustment reactions, which can be caused by any loss or change. Depression is often multi-factorial, i.e. it's not simply caused by just one thing. There may be a history of it, genetics, triggers. We've all felt sadness and lowness, not feeling great about ourselves, depression is just different in volume and length of time. Often it's typified as 2 weeks of persistent low-mood.

What do you feel/think?
Sleep disturbance; early waking; appetite disturbance; being 'so tired'; lack of energy; not making an effort on appearance; how we treat ourselves; very negative thinking: 'I'm no good'; lack of concentration...


Often if we're physically unwell it will effect how we feel, and vice-versa.

Healthy habits...
Exercise (endorphins); eating good food; rest/sleep ('sleep hygiene': waking up at same time every day but only going to bed when feeling tired); expressing emotion; support/family/friends; achieving things; being creative; being outside (1o mins outside - 3hrs uplifted!); knowing it's ok to laugh/cry.

Negative habits...
Social isolation; alchohol; drugs; spending £££; deliberate self-harm (although this is often a logical progression from wanting to feel physically the distress you feel inside); guilt...

Remember, life is full of little pleasures! Here's an example to get you thinking and delighting in small things.

Getting better...
Support and love - it's important to feel safe. We need 20 strokes a day! Hug, touch, physical support, feeling loved. Counselling - talking through things. Realigning your thinking (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), i.e. helping people to look at their negative thinking. Medication... we don't say you shouldn't put a plaster on when you get cut, yet we seem to think medication for depression is wrong. Why!? Medication will stimulate the brain to make more of what it needs, and maintained treatment (usually 6 months min.) allows body to get used to it thus acting as a safety net.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

How can we as the church get better at helping people with depression?

Robin Ham said...

Great question - thanks for asking it and starting the conversation.
I suppose being aware of the problem (of a lack of church support), and also being a church aware of the reality of depression, is the first step on the way to the solution.

Congregationally, in many ways a whole church aware of depression will mean church members aware of it, small pastoral group leaders aware of it, elders aware of it, which means people more ready to understand those with depression.

On a leadership level, I think helpful honesty is to be modelled and encouraged. I think one shouldn't be afraid of the power of God's word to transform people too. Teaching that focuses on what grace really says in a world that speaks a different language MUST be needed. It is easy, I imagine, to feel that word ministry is too simplistic, "it's just not quite enought", and on one hand I feel hopeless at answering such a question as someone who's never faced clinical depression. Yet a gospel that fixes our minds on our identity in Christ through the cross, and on the glorious reality of hope of a new heavens and earth must be a major part of any solution. What do you think?

Westie said...

Thanks, that's very helpful. I think having a greater awareness is definitely important. I guess it's also important that the church is being what it should be - if the church is Christ's body, them one member suffering should be a concern for the whole church...I don't know what that would look like in practice, but so often, our suffering can turn into a private struggle with 'church' (services) being a reminder of how alone we may be feeling.

I also think you're right in saying we shouldn't be afraid of the power of God's word to transform people. Very recently I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller. He helpfully said that when counselling people, if we focus too much on the behaviour and fixing that, we can miss the deeper issue, the real reason for why that person is displaying particular behaviour. So with depression, too often we can focus on making the person 'better' again, without dealing with the root cause. Which is where the gospel comes in - to know we have been saved by grace, to know we have a new identity in Christ, to be convinced that we are citizens of heaven - surely that is the ultinate answer to most things. If the church can be focused on teaching this to people, that surely must go some way to bringing about changes in people's lives.

I guess the two things have to go hand in hand. A number of years ago, I suffered from quite bad depression. What I found unhelpful was the number of people who would give me Bible study notes etc expecting that to fix the problem. Yes, God's word is powerful, and yes, engaging with the living God through his word was ultimately what brought me out of my depression. But I always wonder whether the path may have been a little easier if people had shown more love and care. Love and care that go beyond the boundaries. Concern that is radical in a society where often the weak are left by the wayside. Perhaps if the church was operating more as a community rather that as a Sunday/mid-week meeting, there would be a lot less depression in the first place...Thoughts?

Tom said...

Love and care is undoubtedly essential - and needs to be truly sacrificial. If we're just thinking about 'all we can do' we've probably got the wrong approach to it in some ways. But let's resist the easy answers. For some people depression just won't go away. The Word has the power to change people, but God doesn't always choose to take people's depression away. Sometimes we just have to 'weep with those who weep'...

Westie said...

That's really helpful to remember...too often we can try so much to fix the problem that we forget about the person involved. I'm challenged by the call to 'weep with those who weep'...most of the time I'm not even aware of stuggles my friends are going through. I guess it's also an admission that we can't change people...only God at work in people's lives will truly bring a turn around. And yes, we need to remember that God might not take away people's depression but we should still be there for them.

I'm still taken with the idea though that depression is not the ultimate problem. For some people it is...I know people who have battled with depression for years even though everything in their life seems to be going well. For these people, it is a medical condition, and perhaps can only be eased by anti-depressants. Yet for many people, could depression merely be a symptom of a deeper problem? A problem that can be 'fixed' by a greater understanding of the gospel. And by being part of a radically loving church community?

Also, we won't know if God would take the depression away or not, yet nonetheless, we should keep 'gospeling' the person. Whilst weeping.

Gotta get back to the essay now...'The Cross is a major part of, but not the focus of, the gospel - discuss'. Any thoughts...I'll footnote you :)