Posts tagged ‘Depression’

Loneliness and Depression in a Time of COVID-19

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More and more research indicates that COVID-19 is affecting not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. David Kinnaman, who is the president of the Barna Group – a Christian research organization – outlined some of his organization’s latest research on just how lonely people have become because of the isolated situations in which so many of us find ourselves. He writes:

In a snapshot poll we took during the pandemic, we found that half of adults said they experience loneliness at least weekly. One third of adults (32%) say that loneliness affects their most important relationships.

As disturbing as a statistic like this may be, it is only the tip of the iceberg. The pandemic is creating and heightening all sorts of mental health struggles. In another statistic, David notes that 39% of people say they have become so depressed that their depression is destroying their relationships.

Speaking of depression, in an article for The Player’s Tribune, Kevin Love, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, opened up about his personal struggle with the disease. The whole article is worth reading, but Kevin’s explanation of how he tried to achieve his way out of depression is especially striking:

Everybody who goes through mental health issues has a unique story, but for me (and I think this is probably true for a lot of people), my entire identity was tied to one thing in a really unhealthy way. Way before I was in the NBA or even in college, my self-worth was all about performing. I was what I did, which I think a lot of people can relate to, whether they’re a chef or a lawyer or a nurse or whatever the profession. I just happened to play basketball. 

When I wasn’t performing, I didn’t feel like I was succeeding as a person. 

I didn’t really know how to be comfortable in my own skin. I could never just be unapologetically Kevin, walking into a room. I was never in the moment, alive. It was always the next thing, the next game, the next, next, next. It was like I was trying to achieve my way out of depression.

Kevin goes on to write about how, years earlier, he had broken his wrist twice and was not able to “achieve” like he wanted to and what he wanted to in basketball. His depression became overwhelming for him:

The future started to feel meaningless. And when it gets to the point where you lose hope, that’s when the only thing you can think about is, “How can I make this pain go away?”

I don’t think I have to say much more than that. 

If it hadn’t been for a couple of my closest friends, I don’t know if I would be here today telling my story. And 99.9% of the people in my life probably don’t know how bad it got for me. But as hard as that might be for them to hear, I feel like I need to get that off my chest for the people out there who might be in a similar situation right now …

All I can say to you is this: 

Talk to somebody. 

You would be amazed at how freeing it is just to talk to somebody, and tell them the truth about what you’re going through. 

And listen, I’m not trying to sell you some fairy-tale version of mental health. It took me years and years – hell, it genuinely took 29 years for me to realize what I needed. 

I needed medication. I needed therapy. 

I still need those things now, and I probably always will. 

This is incredible insight. And it goes to the heart of why David Kinnaman’s statistic on loneliness is so sinister. Loneliness cannot win if we’re going to be okay. Isolation cannot carry the day. We need each other. We need to talk to each other. And we need to be there for each other. This does not mean that we disregard protocols to protect our physical health against a serious virus. Social distancing, masks, handwashing, and avoiding large gatherings are still wise ideas. But none of these protocols need prevent us from picking up a phone and talking to each other, or FaceTiming with each other. None of these protocols need stall us in seeking professional help. None of these protocols need stop us from loving each other.

If you’re struggling right now, listen to Kevin Love:

Talk to somebody.

You’ll be glad you did. And they’ll be glad you did, too. Because they love you.

September 28, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Dealing with Depression

This weekend at the church where I serve, we began a two-week series on mental health. A new study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that symptoms of depression in adults across the country has more than tripled since the COVID-19 pandemic began:

In the weeks after the outbreak prompted quarantines and stay-at-home orders, 27.8% of those surveyed had at least one symptom of depression. That compares to just 8.5% of people in 2017 and 2018.

And it’s not just that the proportion of people experiencing signs of depression had increased by mid-April – the burden of those symptoms increased as well. After the pandemic caused a radical shift in daily life, there were “fewer people with no symptoms and more people with more symptoms.”

None of this is particularly surprising. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where the societal upheaval we have endured over these past few months does not have an effect on our mental health.

Struggles with mental health are nothing new. In Psalm 119, the Psalmist has a line that jumped off the page at me as I was reading it as part of my morning devotions this past week:

My soul is weary with sorrow. (Psalm 119:28)

I wonder how many of us can relate to these words because we feel the weight of these words?

The question, of course, is: What do we do when we do feel the weight of these words? In the series we are at my church on mental health, we are talking about how there is both a clinical and a spiritual side to depression. Both must be addressed. Clinically, depression can – and often should – be treated through professional counseling and, perhaps, medication. Spiritually, the Psalmist offers a great place to start in order to address our depression:

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to Your word. (Psalm 119:28)

To heal in our depression, we need a word from the Lord – a word that He loves us, that He will take care of us, and that there is hope for us.

If you’re struggling in depression right now, please know that you’re not alone. Please seek clinical help if you need it. But please also meditate on God’s Word. It is full of people who felt like you do. And it is full of people who God helped like He will you. Depression does not need to be determinative. God has a word of hope for you in His Word.

September 14, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Sick in Spirit When We’re Scared for our Bodies

The COVID-19 outbreak is taking a toll not only on the physical health of millions, but on the emotional health of millions, too. A new survey out from the University of Phoenix shows 4 in 10 Americans are lonelier now than ever before. 71% are worried about the health of a loved one while 61% are concerned about their own health. You combine this with 33% of survey respondents being worried about paying their bills and 27% experiencing depression, and you have the makings of not only a contagious disease pandemic, but a mental health crisis. We may be trying to avoid becoming sick in body through masks, hand washing, and social distancing, but, in the process, we have become sick in spirit.

Early in Jesus’ public ministry, some men bring to Him a paralyzed man, hoping He can heal him. Jesus does. But before He heals his body, He says to this man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). Jesus knows that this man is not only invalid in his flesh, but struggling in his spirit. He needed his sins forgiven.

What Jesus does for this man, Jesus wants to do for every man – and woman. Jesus cares about those who are sick in spirit. This is why Jesus opens His ministry with not only miraculous healing, but profound teaching. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). It turns out that poverty in spirit is just as important to Jesus as infirmity in body. And so, to those who are lonely, Jesus becomes a friend. To those who are worried, Jesus brings peace. And to those who are depressed, Jesus shows empathy. After all, His soul, too, was once “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).

Some 1,000 years before Jesus, King David praised the Lord as the One “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3). David knew the Lord cared about all of us and all that is us – both our spirits and our bodies. More than that, David had hope in One who, in his day, was still to come come – a God who is spirit, but would one day take on a body to walk among our bodies and heal them and to love us in our spirits and forgive them. God cares so much about spirit and body that He comes in Jesus, who is both spirit and body.

And so, whatever COVID-19 may be doing to you – whether in your spirit or in your body – you have One who is both spirit and body to see you through. And He will.

April 20, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Suicide Rates Keep Climbing

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Credit: cocoparisienne from Pixabay 

Suicide has become a national mental health crisis. Story after story bears this out. Take this, for instance, from Brianna Abbott of The Wall Street Journal:

The suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 years old climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention … Around 2010, the death rate of suicides among adolescents and young adults surpassed the rate of homicide deaths, according to the report.

This spike in suicides comes after a period of relatively stable suicide deaths between 2000 and 2007.  And it’s not just young people who are taking their own lives at an exponentially increasing rate. Ms. Abbott goes on to note:

Suicide rates in general have increased in the U.S. across all ages and ethnic groups, rising roughly 30% from 1999 to 2016. 

This is terrifying, especially since we can’t seem to figure out precisely why suicide rates are increasing so dramatically. EJ Dickson, also writing about the latest CDC statistics for Rolling Stone, explains:

Alarmingly, public health experts have no idea why the suicide rate for young adults is increasing so rapidly. “The truth is anyone who says they definitively know what is causing it doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” says Ursula Whiteside, a researcher with the University of Washington, recently told the Washington Post. “It’s a complex problem with no easy answers so far” …

Most mental health experts caution against isolating one “cause” or factor when discussing suicide. Though we know there are certain factors, such as a history of mental illness or substance use, that put teenagers at increased risk for taking their own lives, the mental health establishment simply doesn’t have enough research to draw “firm scientific conclusions” about what causes spikes in suicide, Dr. April Foreman, a psychologist and a board member at the American Association of Suicidology, previously told Rolling Stone. Regardless of what external factors may or may not be contributing, it is “much more likely there are complex things going on in society. We just don’t understand suicide well enough,” she said.

Dr. Foreman’s reference to “complex things going on in society” is ominous. We know monumental societal shifts are taking place. From the ascendency of social media, the overuse and misuse of which has been linked to depression, to the glorification of suicide itself, there are plenty of potential culprits behind these scary statistics, even if we can’t pinpoint precisely how much of a role these culprits play.

With societal shifts affecting how we see the value of our lives – even if their precise effects remain statistically vague – it has become clear that we need a way of seeing ourselves that does not shift with society, but is instead steady in spite of society. Christianity has consistently affirmed and defended the value and dignity of the human person and human life. Our value and dignity are not derived from our status, our income, or even our own feelings about our own selves. Instead, they are grounded in our Creator who, when He created us, called us “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Jesus affirms the value of humanity with a small, but powerful analogy:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

“If God takes good care of the sparrows,” Jesus says, “it should be self-evident that He will take great care of you. After all, if the sparrows are valuable to Him, imagine how much more valuable you are to Him.”

Indeed.

So, if you are feeling worthless or like life is not worthwhile, Jesus invites you to drop the societal estimations of your value and find your value – and hope – in Him. He has given you a life worth living.

October 28, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Hope in the Valley: In Memory of Jarrid Wilson

Any story of anyone who takes their own life always rends my heart. When it is the story of a pastor, it has a special poignancy for me. I would be lying if I said ministry is never difficult. It is. I would also be lying if I said I have not, at times, been haunted by deep sadness over a broken situation, an angry person, or a lost soul. I have been. In my theological tradition, pastors often wear stoles – a piece of cloth draped over a person’s shoulders. This is to remind a pastor that he carries a yoke – a burden – as he goes about his ministry. Ministry can be heavy.

What is true of my ministry I am certain was exponentially truer of Jarrid Wilson’s ministry. He was an associate pastor at a Riverside, California megachurch. He was a respected author. And he was the founder of Anthem of Hope, a nonprofit organization advocating for those struggling with depression. Hours before Jarrid took his own life, he preached at the funeral of a lady who herself had committed suicide. As a pastor myself who has preached at such funerals, I know they are some of the heaviest moments in ministry. But on top of all these responsibilities and burdens was Jarrid’s battle with depression. In his most recent book, Love Is Oxygen, he opened up about his own mental health struggles and described how he had contemplated suicide on multiple occasions. This past Monday, his struggles overtook him.

Depression can come for you regardless of your gender, age, success level, or even faith. There is no life hack a person can deploy or mind trick a person can play to shoo depression away. It is an ongoing struggle against darkness in life and heaviness of soul.

Thousands of years ago, the Psalmist knew something about darkness in life and heaviness of soul. In one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture, he writes:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23) 

The Psalmist did not try to downplay his struggles and sadness. Life, the Psalmist says, can sometimes feel like a “valley of the shadow of death.”  And yet, the Psalmist refused to give up hope.

There is an interesting switch in language that takes place in the midst of this psalm.  The Psalmist opens by talking about the Lord. He is the Psalmist’s shepherd. He makes him like down in green pastures. He leads him beside still waters. But then, suddenly, when the mood of the Psalmist changes, so does the orientation of the Psalm. Instead of talking about the Lord, he begins talking to the Lord: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” The Psalmist no longer talks about the Lord as “He.” Instead, he talks to the Lord as “You.” This is because the Psalmist knows that even when life feels its darkest and heaviest, the Lord is not far. He is right there, personally, with the Psalmist – and with us.

But there’s more. It is interesting that the Psalmist speaks of “the valley of the shadow of death” in the singular while speaking of “green pastures” and “still waters” in the plural. It’s almost as if no matter how dark this world may feel, the blessings of God always outnumber the sin in this world. The valley of the shadow of death may encroach on a person’s soul for a time. But more green pastures and still waters are on their way and are ultimately punctuated by a promise of eternity: “I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

The language of this ancient poem is not a prescription that can take away depression and suicidal thoughts, but it can offer some perspective if you do struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. No matter how dark your valley may feel, the Lord walks with you. And no matter how tempted you may be to take your own life into your own hands, the Lord has something for you. He is your Shepherd who wants to lead you lovingly through this life even if you feel like you want to escape from this life.

So, if you’re struggling, pick up the phone. Reach out for help. Ask someone to help you find those “green pastures” and “still waters” that feel so lost and distant. And remember, not only does God love you, many others do, too. There are plenty of reasons to keep on fighting for the life God has given you.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

September 16, 2019 at 5:15 am 4 comments

Depression, Mental Health, and Spiritual Health

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The statistics are scary.  U.S. suicide rates are on a steep incline.  Writing for Bloomberg, Cynthia Koons explains:

So many statistics say that life in the U.S. is getting better.  Unemployment is at the lowest level since 1969.  Violent crime has fallen sharply since the 1990s – cities such as New York are safer than they’ve ever been.  And Americans lived nine years longer, on average, in 2017 than they did in 1960.  It would make sense that the psychic well-being of the nation would improve along with measures like that. 

Yet something isn’t right.  In 2017, 47,000 people died by suicide, and there were 1.4 million suicide attempts. U.S. suicide rates are at the highest level since World War II, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on June 20, when it released a study on the problem.  And it’s getting worse: The U.S. suicide rate increased on average by about 1% a year from 2000 through 2006 and by 2% a year from 2006 through 2016.

While life may be getting better materially, suicide rates are also climbing precipitously.  Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 34.  Ms. Koons goes on to conjecture why this is.  In her mind, the problem is rooted primarily in a lack of public funding for mental health resources to help those struggling with and suffering from depression:

Most people are at the mercy of their company’s health plans when it comes to seeking care; a person with fewer benefits simply wouldn’t have access to the best resources for either crisis care or chronic mental health treatment.  Even for those fortunate enough to be able to pay out of pocket, availability of providers ranges wildly across the U.S., from 50 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Washington, D.C., for example, to 5.3 per 100,000 in Idaho, according to research from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center.  And despite laws requiring insurers to offer mental health benefits at the same level as other medical coverage, many make it difficult to find appropriate treatment and limit residential care.

Although I am certainly open to the idea of making more resources available for depression, it should also be noted that one of our most publicly preferred paths of care – that of medication – seems to be not only ill-equipped, but virtually non-equipped to handle our current crisis.  As Ms. Koons notes:

The use of antidepressants in Australia, Canada, England, the U.S., and other wealthy countries didn’t lead to a decline in the prevalence and symptoms of mood disorders despite substantial increases in the use of the drugs from 1990 to 2015. 

In light of this, perhaps we need to consider not only the clinical causes of depression, but the cultural ones as well.  Here’s what I mean.

21st century Western culture has sacralized the values of achievement and freedom.  Achievement is a value that can look virtuous – stories of self-made people impress us to this day – but can often lead people to trade what is truly virtuous – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – for what is merely selfish – the lust for things like riches, success, and fame.  Likewise, our culture’s vaunted value of freedom often collapses into its dark twin of individualism as people begin to engage in personal licentiousness instead of being devoted to their community’s liberty.  Instead of living together in a free society that respects and learns from disagreements, we demand agreement with and celebration of our individual choices and proclivities, even if they are manifestly immoral and damaging to our social fabric.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many people wind up deeply depressed.  Emptiness is the inevitable end of every self-obsessed pursuit.  We simply cannot fill ourselves with ourselves.  We need something – and, really, Someone – outside of us to fill us, which is why the apostle Paul writes:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him. (Romans 15:13)

In our frenetic search to find medical preventions and interventions for depression, let’s not forget the spiritual voids, which our culture often willingly creates and celebrates, that also contribute to the depressed state of our society.  Yes, people who are depressed need a good doctor.  But they also need a Savior.

Let’s make sure we offer both.

July 8, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Meaning in Meaninglessness – Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Depression 1“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD” (Psalm 130:1).  We all know what it feels like to be in “the depths.”  A tragedy strikes, depression hits, or despair wreaks havoc on our hearts and our emotional states can quickly take a turn for the worse.  Just this past week, I have heard stories of great trouble, tragedy, and trial from many of our own congregation members.  Tears come to my eyes as I think of the depths they are having to endure.  As they are in “the depths,” I cry to the Lord in prayer for them.

In worship this past weekend, we continued our series “Fit for Life” by talking about our emotional health.  In my studies for this weekend’s theme, I found that for all the health problems we have physically as a nation – cancer and diabetes and swine flu and coughs and colds – our emotional health problems are even direr.  Consider these statistics:

  • According to PBS, 15 million adults, a full 8% of the US population, suffers from what is described as “major depression,” that is, depression that has become unmanageable.  And this number does not even include people 18 and younger.  There are millions more high school students who suffer from major depression.
  • Every sixteen minutes, someone commits suicide in our country.  Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death overall and the second leading cause of death among college students.  Every year, more people die from suicide than homicide.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, anti-depressants are the most prescribed drugs in America.  Of the 2.4 billion prescriptions written in 2005, 118 million of those were for anti-depressants.  Interestingly, the number of anti-depressants prescribed between 1999 and 2000 tripled.

These statistics sadly attest to how we, as a nation, are not emotionally healthy.  Emotional sickness, however, is not unique to our day and age.  Depression struck the ancients even as it strikes us.

Consider Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  He opens his book:  “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  The Hebrew word for “meaningless” is hebel, meaning, “emptiness,” or “vanity.”  Notably, the Hebrew construction reads literally, “Hebel of Hebels,” or “Vanity of Vanities.”  This is to express the superlative force of the meaninglessness of which Solomon speaks.  In other words, Solomon is not just addressing that which is meaningless, he is addressing that which is most meaningless.  And what is most meaningless?  Solomon answers, “Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  Everything?  Yes, everything! Money, fame, power, prestige, accomplishment, wisdom, connectedness – it’s all meaningless!  Talk about a depressed outlook on life!

Blessedly, Solomon further clarifies his assertion that everything is ultimately meaningless by noting the location at which everything is meaningless: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (verse 9).  This phrase, “under the sun,” is key to Ecclesiastes and appears some twenty nine times.  It serves as a circumlocution to speak of that which is on this earth.  In other words, as long as we are on this earth and are living by the values of this earth, our lives will be ultimately devoid of meaning.  We will find ourselves trapped by “the depths” of sinfulness.  Thus, if we are to receive true, lasting meaning for our lives, we must receive it from somewhere – indeed, from someone – not under the sun.  And so Solomon finally points us to God as our source for true meaning:

What does the worker gain from his toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13)

Even though this world is full of trouble, toil, and tribulation “under the sun,” we trust in a God who delivers his gifts from above the sun – he delivers his gifts from heaven, even as James says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).  God sends his gifts from above the heavenly lights into our world.  Indeed, he even sent the good and perfect gift of his Son, the ultimate heavenly Light, to redeem our world from its misery and meaninglessness.  It is in Christ that we find transcendent meaning for our lives.

How is your emotional health?  Are you happy or sad?  Fulfilled or empty?  Elated or in despair?  Whether times are good or bad, remember that life is not hopeless “under the sun.”  For God has sent his Son from above the sun to give us meaning and purpose as we live under the sun.  And so never despair concerning your life’s meaning.  For God has given your life – and every life – meaning.  And that meaning’s name is Jesus.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Dr. Player’s ABC!

March 1, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


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