What is it like to feel so sad or lonely to the point that you cannot get out of bed in the morning? What is it like to have no appetite, no motivation? Inability to sleep? No desire to socialize?
These are symptoms common to 44 percent of American college students, according to healthline.com.
Depression can be a difficult topic to approach. But it’s necessary to know about it since so many people—including friends and family members—deal with symptoms of depression regularly.
Victoria Sanders, a sophomore journalism and mass communication student, shared her own experience with depression.
“The worst part about my depression was how I became a stranger,” she said. “I went from someone who was passionate about God, life and people to someone withdrawn, angry and un-empathetic.”
Sanders said she thought that this angry person was the “new” Victoria when, in reality, it was just the symptoms of depression that had such a tight grip on her.
“It was only after the healing that came with Christian counsel and God’s grace that I realized how much the depression had changed me,” she said.
Dr. Pearson Johnson, director of Student Care and Discipleship, has had many opportunities as a pastor to help those like Sanders who are struggling with depression.
Johnson said it’s important not to oversimplify the issue. Instead, people must be aware of several factors that could be contributing to one’s depression.
“Be careful about giving quick answers,” he said. “Depression is a multi-faceted issue, not a simplistic one.”
Dr. Marc Chetta, an M.D. and associate professor of biology, said the very nature of depression warrants the need for a team of both biblical counselors and medical professionals.
“Because depression is multi-factorial—physical, genetic, spiritual—depression is often the ‘perfect storm’ where everything comes together at one time,” he said. “That’s why we recommended forming partnerships between biblical counselors and physicians.”
When approaching the issue of depression, Chetta said it’s important to remember that it can be shaped by three different categories:
1. Situational or circumstantial: This type of depression is something everybody encounters such as a bad break-up, a financial crisis that threatens finishing school, illness, or the death of a friend or loved one.
“We all go through sadness, which is a part of life,” Chetta said.
2. Spiritual: Deep spiritual issues such as pornography, presumptuous doubts about where God is in all this and thoughts such as, “I must not be saved if I’m having these feelings,” and recurrent sins can cause depression.
“This guilt that is God-
given bears them down,” Chetta said.
3. Biological or physical: Chetta said people experience this in physical conditions such as post-partum depression, premenstrual syndrome or Parkinsonism.
In the case of hypothyroidism, a person may be tired, lacking energy and foggy.
“You put them on thyroid medication and they’re no longer depressed,” Chetta said.
Although these three categories are helpful in determining specific causes of depression, Chetta said it’s important to remember that they often overlap like a Venn diagram.
“The issue is that there’s no ‘one size fits all,’” he said. “Although sin can be a cause of depression, it is not always the cause of depression.”
Since depression is often multi-faceted in cause, Johnson never discourages students from seeking help from medical professionals in the community—especially when they are in very desperate situations.
Instead, he encourages people to educate themselves on the realities of what the medications deliver.
“Seeking help should include educating oneself about the realities of what medications offer and deliver, speaking openly with their doctors in partnership with their biblical counselors,” he said.
Chetta also said the use of medication in treating depression is a case-by-case scenario.
“The proper approach [to depression] should be a judicious use of medications when needed to be a bridge where their mind is then enabled to receive biblical counseling and a focus on counseling to bring patients to holistic healing.”
Sometimes simply changing one’s lifestyle can help depression.
For depressed college students, Chetta recommends incorporating these four physical habits that have much research data to combat depression: adequate sleep, which for college-aged students is at least seven hours each night, sun exposure or 2,000-5,000 units of vitamin D3 each day, vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes three to four times each week and a healthy diet.
Chetta said, for many college students, depression can be an issue of invincibility.
“Young people don’t like to say ‘no,’” Chetta said. “They tend to have the mindset of ‘I can do everything’ or ‘I have no limits.’ College students often think they can meet every single relational or academic demand brought before them, and failing to fulfil those responsibilities can cause depression. They’re missing a reality check.”
The greatest difference between a Christian’s approach to depression and the secularist’s approach is that the latter tends to ignore the spiritual aspects of depression.
Along with the physical factors of depression, it’s important to approach the issue with a biblical worldview in mind, considering the nature of the fall, the whole person and the hope of redemption.
Johnson said the very first step to approaching depression is to consider expectations.
“Our culture promises the ideal—to be always feeling well, always healthy, always satisfied,” he said. “That’s not a realistic promise for life in a fallen world.”
Pearson gave four practical ways Christians can help their depressed friends:
1. Listen. Find out information by listening to the circumstances and issues that are manifesting themselves in either self-diagnosis or a diagnosis of depression. This is the most important step.
2. Love. Commit to doing whatever you can to help them—to walk through the valley that they’re experiencing with them. This is not always easy, and it requires sacrifice, but it’s critical.
3. Learn. Take the time to learn what they’re dealing with and how you can help them. This requires learning from your hurting friends as well as learning from the Scriptures. Look for ways to come alongside them.
4. Lead. Lead them to Christ, Scripture and other resources that can be a help to them. Sometimes, this means taking them to the doctor or advising them to get a medical checkup.
A proper view of life plays an important role in understanding depression.
“While having realistic expectations of life in a fallen world, we also shouldn’t have it as our goal to be morose or be content with being melancholy,” Johnson said.
“A balanced biblical view of life in a fallen world will lead to expectations of both pain and suffering, but also hope in Christ and final redemption, the experiences of joy and other fruits of the Spirt, as well as the difference-making encouragements of fellow believers.”
Oftentimes, the spiritual aspect of treating depression is overlooked.
“It’s important to recognize that we live in a sin-cursed world and that we’re going to bear the sin-cursed effects of the fall in our bodies, spirits and emotions,” Johnson said.
People will suffer with depression until Christ returns because of sin. Chetta said, “Just like we are all sinners, because of the fall, we are all a little mentally ill.”
Chetta further explained that because of sin, we all struggle with broken minds that do not think God’s thoughts apart from the enlightenment that the Holy Spirit brings when He indwells a Christian.
But there is hope.
“We deal with [the effects of sin] by hoping in the resources God has provided now and the future redemption of our bodies,” Johnson said. “That helps us get through the present.”