Why am I so lonely and depressed all the time?

by Charles Slack

Well, at age 83 I’m not.

Since becoming a Christian (age fifty), I’ve been consistently joyous. Even while grieving, mourning for loved ones, there’s joy at the bottom of my heart. I’m usually in good health – but while writing this article, I had severe flu including a night in hospital. The coughing and sniffling didn’t quit; headache and chest-pain were relentless. Physically incapacitated, I suffered. But I was not depressed. What a change! Before coming to the Lord, I was constantly in the dumps. I thought I was meant to be that way.

MY ANSWER: the world is actually a lonely, depressing place.
You will be at least slightly lonely and depressed unless you have an intimate, father-relationship with God. And that only comes through Jesus Christ. There are things you can do to mitigate natural worldly despair but the only complete cure is what the Bible calls “joy of the Lord”.

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“Worry comes with the territory.” That’s what people said back in the early 20th century.

Now it’s true of depression. Our society, the whole post-modern world itself, is depressing – and getting more so.

The 1930’s (my childhood) were apprehensive times.
Philosophers called it “angst”. Great literature, theatre, music and dance were about “the age of anxiety”. But anxiety eventually morphs into depression. Given enough worry, you fall into the pit of despair. No lasting contentment.

Oh yes, life has its up-moments but there’s no continuing lift. A bit of fun comes from the odd, fleeting pleasure – winning a prize, achieving an ambition, triumphing over an opponent. These provide brief respite. But the distracting thrills fade. Suffering moves forefront. Ubiquitous evil takes centre stage. TV provides distraction and a few laughs. Somebody somewhere shows a kindness. Some champion gets gold. A hero rescues a child or an animal. A few sacrifices are made for the common good. (So goodness does exist.) But the totality of positive events is insufficient to raise the negative baseline. We remain deprived of ongoing happiness.

It’s not the first time in history. The book of Ecclesiastes, written thousands of years ago by the wisest, richest, most powerful man of the day, clearly states that worldly pursuits will let you down. “All is vanity” says the King James version; “melancholia” was the 19th century word; “depression” is the post-modern term. Same in Jesus’ day: He came specifically to save the “broken-hearted”; He preached good news for the “poor in spirit”. And the crowds who thronged to hear him were politically and religiously oppressed as well as spiritually depressed – like many today.

The seeds of depression lay in my very identity. Most of us find our primary identity in a job or profession, or perhaps in a roles as spouse/parent/friend. If I think of myself primarily as a psychologist, I am bound to become depressed sometime after middle age. If successful at I will push the ceiling and be disillusioned. If I am a failure, I will encounter personal limits and be disheartened. This is true of every occupation. Each has its mid-life crises as does each social role. Thinking you are primarily a mother means you are unprepared when you must quit mothering – either because you’ve been successful or because you’ve failed. You will be depressed if your children become dysfunctional. But if they function properly, you no longer function as their parent. The Bible teaches parenting to be a “calling” not an identity. My reason for living is in Christ.

So I am no longer primarily a psychologist.

I am primarily a “child of God” made in His image – who happens to have worked as a psychologist. In my retirement, I say I am a “reformed psychologist”.

What to do. The customary advice is:

• See your doctor. Get assessed properly. Get treated if need be. OK, but don’t expect the treatment (pills) or the counselling (talk) to be a cure. The medication is likely to seem like a cover-up or even just a wet blanket. The counselling will try to help you accept yourself as you are and the world as it is. However, what you really need is a new self and a better world.

• Join social activities, “get connected”, make friends. Easier said than done, often impossible when depressed. Far better to start by getting connected with the Lord. Go to prayer meetings. Go to church! “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and then things like serenity, security and happiness “will be added unto you”.

• Be a volunteer. Help others. This was first proposed by psychoanalyst Alfred Adler over a hundred years ago. Problem: none of his depressed patients could even think of anything to do to help another person. Easier option: go to church early on Sunday morning and smile at people as they come in.

• Exercise regularly. This definitely works. Endorphin’s rise. Try strenuous praise and worship. Most depressed Christians sit way in the back in church. Move to the front and sing loud.

• Read inspiring literature. Read the Bible. Read Sarah Young, Jesus Calling. And/or write, telling other people what to do. Writing can be unpleasant but having written is usually quite pleasant.

• Quit smoking and drinking. Alcohol is a depressant. Smokers are more depressed than non-smokers. Ex-smokers eventually report elation. If you can’t quit, go to church anyway and ask for prayer. Check out AA and NA meeting in the church shed or basement.

Finally, If you think I’m overstating it, if you think you’re reasonably happy and don’t need Jesus, let me say there is one thing worse than being lonely and depressed. That is being lonely and depressed without being aware of it – unconscious depression. You think you’re meant to be unhappy so you’ll work hard, miserable so you’ll keep striving, less than par so you nose will stay on the grindstone.

In the sixties Nancy Sinatra sang I’ve Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.

I was “down” for years during the sixties, and I didn’t discover why until Jesus came into my life. I was fifty years old when that happened. I can honestly say I have not had another depressed moment since the first Sunday in October 1980.

Let Lord Jesus heal your broken spirit.

Let Him show you a better world. Let Him put the joy of the Lord down in your heart.

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Depression and Grief

by Charles Slack

Depression and grief are not the same.  Depression is a lingering state of mind (often assumed to have a neurological basis) whereas grief is a more acute state of emotional pain caused by a specific loss.  In grief, we temporarily mourn the passing of a cherished person, place, thing (or sometimes theory or thought).  Often the emotional pain following loss does not seem to be temporary.  When that happens it’s best to call it depression rather than grief.  Likewise, self-pity, a persistent] distress featuring bitterness and resentment, is more likely associated with depression than with true grief.

So the Bible-based relief from full-on, intransigent, relentless, deep depression (worldly sorrow) is full-on, deep but transient Godly sorrow (II Corinthians 7:9-10).   Godly sorrow is intense, sometimes almost unbearably severe.  But unlike depression, we can mourn and go through the worst of it with God’s help.  The Bible cure for depression involves letting your heart break, your tears flow in complete sorrowfulness.

Grief-relief from depression, effective but not easy

This Bible-based method is painful.  Grief is more intense than depression and we naturally fear its full-on agony.  But the good news is: the intense phase of grief is short-lived compared to depression which never quits.  The intense phase of grief, though horrible, lasts only “for a season” – thank God – and He constantly promises to comfort us during the worst of it.  When we emerge from grief, as we eventually do, we may still feel some loss but we are no longer at a loss – the sun shines again.  On the other hand, we never do emerge from clinical depression.  We just suppress/repress (or dampen the blues with medication) while the anguish goes on and on undercover.

Great men and women of God have suffered depression (formerly called “melancholia”) until they completely surrendered to God.  Billy Graham was “spiritually dead” prior to being born again.  Franklin Graham was “sick and tired of being sick and tired”.  St. Augustine wrote his famous Confessions about the depths he experienced before turning completely to the will of his Saviour.

David of Judea and even Jesus Christ both asked, God, why have you forsaken me? (David in Psalm 22; Jesus in Matthew 27:46.)  There’s no use trying to convince yourself God hasn’t abandoned you when you really think He has.  Why not do what David and Jesus did to get the answer direct?  If God doesn’t answer immediately, persist!  Set aside a time every day to ask God why He seems to have left.  Don’t take my word for it, find out for yourself.

My depression was caused by my hanging on to something God wanted me to let go of.  As long as I hung on, I was still “of the world” in a big way.   The Bible way is “die to self” and grieve, after which you rise – becoming a new creation.  Jesus says (Mark 8:34-35) “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Psychoanalytic cure never applied

A Swiss psychoanalyst, Dr. Alfred Adler, invented a fourteen-day cure for depression.  Adler said, if each of fourteen days you simply think of one thing you could do to help another person, your depression will lift.  You don’t really have to do anything, just think that thought.  Problem: his patients could not think it.  Severely depressed people simply could not imagine a single thing to help someone else.  They asked Adler, “What do you mean by ‘help’?”  He replied, “Make someone smile.”  Still they couldn’t do it.  A patient said he was so depressed he couldn’t sleep.  Dr. Adler said, “Stay awake and think of something that would help someone.”  Next day the patient said he went right to sleep!  Dr. Adler’s patients didn’t know how to make his cure work because they didn’t know the Lord.  You and I can help somebody merely by going to church early.  Leave in advance and get there early: you meet the best people that way, Early Club members who help make the church service possible.  Being an early bird indicates willingness to help. Even if you actually do little or nothing, you have at least done some Adlerian thinking.  Repeat for three Sundays in a row and put your mind to it every day in between and your depression will lift noticeably.  Such is the power of even a tiny bit of Godly devotion.

Good and bad sorrow

Worldly devotions, such as idolizing your child or worrying about finances, may seem OK but these can take priority over God.  A person, place, thing or thought that God wants us to let go of can be deadly.  It may not be a felony or misdemeanor but it is a form of idolatry, a breach in our relationship with Him.  Such attachments cause depression.

Good Grief

The ultimate cure for depression is Godly sorrow which means grieving.  You repent and then you mourn because you have totally let go of the person, place, thing or idea you valued so highly.  You go through the great grief like a heavy waterfall.  When you come out, the world is brighter.  Good grief!  People are afraid of grief but actually there is nothing to fear.  The intense phase of grief is always temporary.

So think, for a moment, about exactly what or whom you may be idolizing.  It might be your profession, your self-image, even your ministry.  You don’t want to give it up because it seems as important as your very own soul.  That beloved person, place, thing, activity, idea or ideal is an idol.  Hanging onto it can eventually kill you; the Bible says it “worketh death”.  As long as you hang onto him/her/it/them, you remain intractably depressed and there seems no way out.  However, you are deceived: the way out is to become willing to let go completely.

If you are unsure or unaware of exactly what it is you are holding onto, if the object of your tenacity is unknown or uncertain, then seek help from a Godly mentor or advisor to help you find words for it and bring it to full consciousness.

Then, hand it over to Lord Jesus.  Give Him your cherished self-concept: you are now a new creature in Christ.  Give Him your idolized, unsaved child: s/he’s the Lord’s child now.  Surrender your drug-abusing partner to God: s/he’s God’s problem now.  Give UP the idea you will ever get healed the way you think you should: let the Lord work in His inscrutable way with your health.  God’s will be done, not yours.  Surrender your life to Him – total, absolute, unconditional surrender.

Sound impossible?  Letting go completely means total loss and total loss means unbearable grief.  But that’s your only choice, unbearable grief vs. interminable depression.  If you choose grief, you will find grief is temporary and God will send His Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to get you though.  If you choose to remain depressed, He makes no such promises.  In fact that’s the whole problem in a nutshell: God appears to forsake the depressed while He blesses those who repent and mourn.

Don’t idolize your life

Jesus said that whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. (Luke 17:33)  Idolizing my self-made lifestyle made me suicidal with depression.  But, thank God, I didn’t kill myself.  Instead, I “died to self”, was crucified with Christ so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)  At the time I was totally powerless, I felt I simply could not do a single thing.  That’s when God took over.  I just let Him do His job.  The pain was great (greater than the depression) but after God removed the cause, agony subsided.

Don’t let anyone tell you to lighten up: happiness comes later.  When I grieved, I cried tears.  I mourned and felt unbearable loss when at last I finally let it go.  That person, place, thing, idea, whatever I was clinging to, is now gone forever and I suffered accordingly.  However, the Lord Jesus always supplies a “Comforter and Helper” (John14:26): the Holy Spirit comes.  “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:4)   Grief is all about suffering and being comforted.  God gives us mourning to get the grief out of our system.

Summing up

Surrender requires trust in God.  “He will bring it to pass.”  (Read Psalm 37 and take it totally to heart.)  Ask God to remove ALL your old ideas.  Begin afresh.  Let him give you new ideas about relationships, healing, love, salvation, your profession, your ministry, and of course, about depression and happiness.  He will renew your mind in His time.  Just do what He requires.  It may seem mechanical, but go through the actions anyway.  Be patient.  He will bring it to pass.  God will turn your mourning into joy and “gird” you with gladness (Psalm 30:11).  You will be more content than you ever thought possible.

Finally, the most important thing you can do to keep from getting depressed again is regular, full-on worship of the Lord.   Worship at every opportunity.  Next in importance is “helping others”: 1) Love God with all your being; 2) love your neighbour.  This is good advice but, when you are depressed, no way can you do it without Lord Jesus in your life.

But after you pass through the grieving, you can worship and share abundantly.

On pages 250-251 of “Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference” by Philip Yancey, is a testimony by a severely depressed lady named Jacqueline titled “Hanging On”.  When depressed Jacqueline says she felt “everything was wrong”.  She “might as well have been run over by a truck.”  She could hardly get out of bed.  She “went on suicide websites to see if other people had experienced something similar.”  In the finish she completely surrendered to God’s love and pulled through by His grace.  Jacqueline concludes depression changed her forever.  “It took away all cockiness, any sense that I can make it on my own.  I think of myself as having a spiritual disability now – I have to rely on God all day long every day.  I can’t count on myself because I have failed myself.  I used to see prayer as a way of getting God to do what I wanted.  Now I see it as my way of getting in on what God is doing, and just hanging on.”

I put it this way: it is human to desire success but divine to embrace failure and turn to God.

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God’s Word on Depression

by Charles Slack

I’m writing from (independent) Samoa, a thoroughly Christian country where depression is so uncommon that the language has no word for it.

The closest terms, still far from the mark, are anoanoa (sorrow) and fa’avauvau (loneliness).

It’s difficult to be lonely here:
the people are eager to invite you into their lives. Samoa is a poor country with no large cash-crop or major industry. But food is plentiful and shelter ubiquitous so that survival is no problem. The culture is gift-centered rather than consumer-oriented. They sometimes wish they were richer and of course they do experience hard times but not depression as we palogi (Europeans) know it. I have yet to check with local physicians but so far the only Samoan I’ve encountered who experience depression did so while living in Los Angeles. Upon returning to Samoa and attending Bible College, his symptoms abated.

We of the western world live in a time of high pressure, stress and distress. The economy is depressed. The Church is oppressed. Morality is suppressed. Faith is repressed. Budgets are compressed. (The only thing not pressed is clothing when we have less to spend on it.)

As world markets, national banks, giant corporations, even whole countries all slide into the slump, I suggest we ascertain what the Bible has to say about depression. You may be relieved to know that the problem was on Jesus’ mind from the start. Depression was the very first topic of His very first sermon.

Jesus relieves depression

Jesus began His ministry on earth by preaching “good news for the depressed”.

Not only does He have a cure for depression, He is that cure.

The first words of His inaugural sermon (Matthew 5:3) are “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Don’t let anyone tell you this just means “voluntarily humble”: the original Greek denotes being bowed down, destitute, mendicant). Clearly Jesus was announcing good news for the spiritually poverty-stricken.

The people to whom Jesus spoke were politically oppressed by a cruel, totalitarian government and religiously suppressed by an authoritarian priesthood. Deadly diseases were rampant. Life was short. Murder was common. Infant mortality was high. The economy was weak. Daily life was drudgery and afterlife unpromising (many didn’t even believe in a resurrection). There was little reason for those listening to be other than depressed, socially, financially and spiritually.

Yet as soon as Jesus began to preach, the crowd began to shine with hope and joy. They suddenly became “the light of the world” after he had only spoken a few sentences. THAT is powerful preaching!

Even though Jesus blessed them mightily, what He said did not alone cause His listeners to shine. The presence of God and the certainty of His boundless love are what make us glow. Jesus’ listeners instantly knew in their hearts that He loved them with the agape love of God! Not only had He been healing them of their diseases – free of charge – but the very look in His eyes spoke volumes. They knew He understood their problems, recognized their defects, and still He cared!

So when speaking with authority, Jesus first “opened his mouth” to say “I have good news for the depressed”, they instantly knew relief was at hand.

Personal depression is cured by experiencing fully the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ.

When you become thoroughly saturated in His Great Love, you cease to worry and the dark cloud lifts. When you are sure you are loved despite your shortcomings and faults, you become rich in spirit. You begin to shine.

Likewise the ultimate cure for economic depression is to pass on to others what you have received. Generosity increases wealth. Forgiveness always reduces poverty. Economists blame the US financial crisis on making bad loans, but it is equally true that the current panic was caused by expecting greedy returns on investment. Financial panic is the end result of financial avarice.

I fully realize that reading this article is unlikely to produce any euphoria in those who’s super is rapidly heading south or who can’t seem to find an effective psychotropic serotonin absorption inhibitor. However, experiencing the extent of God’s love is guaranteed to take away the worst of the blues. And unlike pills, agape has no negative side effects.

A full realization of God’s love doesn’t come overnight.

For starters, you must fellowship where His love abounds. And that which you receive you must in turn pass on to others.

God’s love is not a commodity: it can’t be traded but must be given away in order to be possessed.

Count your blessings, all the ways God shows His love. It takes time but do it anyway. It’s worth it. Make a gratitude list. You’ll be glad you did.

  • Has counseling let you down?
  • Been diagnosed but untreated or treated but not cured?
  • Are you in the dumps over debt or relationships?
  • Feeling low?
  • Overweight?
  • Underachieving?

Attend a church that shines with God’s Love in full measure. Bask in His agape love feast, soak in it, immerse yourself, and then when you’re full, pour some out on others.

Don’t expect results overnight: the experience takes a while to sink in. Meanwhile concentrate on helping others. 

NOTE TO THE DEPRESSED: A visit to Samoa might cost less than some intensive psychiatric services and medications. But don’t just come as a tourist. Make it a pilgrimage by attending full-on Samoan Christian worship-services every day. The singing will lift your spirits and the praise will bring tears of joy. Tell the pastor you suffer from depression. Explain it to him. He is likely to invite you home. You’re the his neighbor: he loves you.

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