On Monday the world was stunned to learn of the tragic death of Robin Williams. His ingenious talents stilled at age 63. His death was even more tragic as it occurred by his own hand. A most creative comedian and actor, he could make people laugh, as well as inspire by the characters he portrayed. A man who fought various addictions during his life, he suffered bouts of depression. It seems paradoxical that one who spent his life making people laugh was in the end depressed enough to take his own life. But such is the malady of depression, as it is no respecter of persons regardless of one’s age, economic or social status. No matter how a person appears on the outside we never know what is going on the inside of them.
Having been in the gospel ministry for over four decades, one thing I have learned over the years: depression is real. It strikes the non-Christian and the Christian alike. There can be a combination of genetic, environmental, biochemical and psychological factors that can lead to depression; however, in dealing with many persons over the years battling with depression I have found four root causes that can lead to depression are: faulty thinking patterns, faulty living, internalized anger, and yielding to negative emotions. The despair of depression can be conquered and reversed if we seek to correct the four root causes that may be contributing to the depression.
Man is more than a physical being, but he is also a spiritual being. In dealing with depression the whole of man must be dealt with: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. When the spiritual is ignored we are neglecting the key component to conquering and defeating depression. To those who suffer from depression, don’t suffer alone in silence. Seek out help from a minister trained in counseling or a professional who sees the connection between the physical and spiritual.
There is no way the four root causes I have mentioned can be dealt with in a blog, yet I will briefly address them. It is recognized I can only touch the hem of their garment, but it is hoped they will offer some insight.
First, if we are to defeat depression we must abandon faulty thinking patterns. What is meant by faulty thinking patterns? Thinking that dwells on negativism, self-condemnation, unfair comparisons, self-pity, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, insignificance, inadequate, etc. When one adopts such thinking patters it will lead to depression.
Thankfully, the Bible tells us “there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Paul tells us we have been “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). In Christ He strengthens us to make us adequate to face whatever comes our way (Phil. 4:13). It is in Christ we find unconditional acceptance that is not based upon what anyone else thinks. As Paul wrote in Philippians, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things (Phil 4:8). It is as we mediate on the Word and who we are in Christ that we break faulty thinking patters. We must daily renew our thinking (Romans 12:2).
Second, if we are to defeat depression we must abandon faulty living. We were created to have a relationship with our Creator through Jesus Christ. As Creator He gave us a guide Book on how best to live. He gave each of us a conscience which is the “echo of God’s voice.” When we go against how God designed us to morally live, when we ignore and violate His inner voice, guilt occurs. No matter how humanity may try to dismiss guilt it is real and is the result of disobeying and living apart from a relationship with our Creator. When such faulty living is adopted depression can result. Many people feel lousy because they live lousy. In Psalm 32 David describes how tortured he was on the inside when he was living in disobedience to his Lord. Only when he confessed his sin and changed his behavior did the joy of the Lord and living return.
The answer to depression that results from faulty living is to correct our lifestyle to align itself with God’s Word. When we seek to live right it is amazing how we begin to feel better about ourselves, our God and our fellowman.
Third, if we are to defeat depression we must rid ourselves of internalized anger and unforgiveness. When one holds grudges, anger and unforgiveness in their heart it will eventually bring about depression and even physical disorders. Again, we are more than a physical being, but we are also a spiritual being. I have seen many persons over the years so dwell on anger or unforgiveness toward another that it drove them to depression. King Saul in the Bible is a good example of one whose internalized anger over David led him to depression.
Jesus told us we must forgive one another (Mark 11:25). We must let such baggage go for it will drag us down. The Book of Hebrews speaks of plucking up the root of bitterness before it takes root (Hebrews 12:15). Internalized anger and unforgiveness is a load too heavy for us to carry or bear. It’s as we ask Him to help us deal with such repressed anger and unforgiveness that we experience the freedom from bondage in our souls.
Fourth, if we are to defeat depression we must master our emotions and not let our emotions master us. The Lord created us as emotional beings, but when our emotions master us instead of us mastering them we can find ourselves sinking into depression. We can have emotions of excitement or depression, tension or relaxation, joy or sorrow, positive or negative, gladness or sadness, anger or forgiveness, love or hate, contentment or discontentment, and the list goes on. To have such emotions makes us human. The problem comes only if we allow negative emotions to dominate our attitude and dictate our actions.
How do we control our emotions? We control our emotions by controlling our thoughts and actions. The Bible says, “As a man thinks so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). John Edmond Haggai says it well, “It is a basic law of psychology that you will feel as you think and act. In other words, if you don’t feel the way you ought to feel, think and act the way you ought to feel, and soon you will feel the way you are thinking an acting. Therefore, you will be feeling as God wants you to feel and act” (Haggai, How to win Over Worry, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, 40-41).
The pragmatic William James said, “If we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves we must…in the first instance cold-bloodily go through the outward motions of those contrary disposition we prefer to cultivate” (Miller, Science of Mental Life, New York: Harper and Row, 1962, 73).
As these four root causes of depression are dealt with the peace that God desires us to experience, and which the human heart longs for, will fill our hearts. No one is exempt from the onslaught of depression, but as we take the proper steps to deal with it we can be victorious and conquer it. We should never suffer alone in silence. Seek help and above all seek the help of the Lord.
“And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).