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Strategies for Fighting Depression Well

Because of recent events, there has been a lot written about the topic of depression and suicide, much of which has been very critical of churches and biblical counselors. We have a friend who has been engaged in a long-term heroic struggle with depression that has included times of fighting suicidal thoughtsShe has been following the many blogs and believes that there is more which needs to be said. I am sharing some of our friend’s thoughts with you, along with a few edits of my own (for clarification). 

 Depression is often a long-term struggle.  

Churches and biblical counselors have been blamed (and sometimes justly) for simplistic responses to depression. In reality, depression is often a long-term struggle. Just as saying “have more faith” is simplistic, so is “take this pill.” In most cases, the answer is not one-dimensional or fast.

We may not be adequately preparing people for this battle when we say, “If you struggle, reach out. There’s hope.” It almost sounds like the end to the struggle is a phone call away, when it’s often not. 

Reaching out is a good start, but it’s incomplete. Scripture calls us to fight alongside of the sufferer (Galatians 6:2). In other words, be present. Check on them regularly and encourage perseverance. Commit to walk with them with them for the long haul. Remind them of the certainty of God’s promises, and become familiar with specific passages from God’s Word, for Scripture is our ammunition in this battle. 

Emphasize fighting well over feeling well. 

Feeling well is a wonderful gift. And doing what one can to alleviate the chronic pain of depression is wise. (In fact, sometimes depression does have a simple physical or spiritual cure. A mother who is running on three or four hours of sleep a night may find significant relief through regular rest. A person stuck in depression because of a life disappointment may find significant relief through discovering God’s greater good in that disappointment through His promises.)  

But, as already stated, depression doesn’t usually just disappear with a one-dimensional answer. And when it is complex and chronic, perhaps one’s focus should not be on feeling better but on recognizing the gifts God gives through suffering.  

In truth, depression is a form of suffering. Thus, all of God’s promises and exhortations that apply to suffering apply to depression as well.  

This gives great hope to strugglers. In fact, it gives all of the hope of God’s promises.  

So, if depression is long-term and if the focus should not be on feeling well, but on fighting well, how do we fight well?  

Strategies to Fight Well 

Persevere.  

In Psalms 42-43, when the psalmist is faced with sorrow and confusion over his own despair, he keeps coming back to the same answer and choosing to practice it. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him…” (Psalm 42:5,11; 43:5).  

Part of what God does in our lives through suffering is, by using the tool of patience, bring about spiritual maturity. James 1:3-4 tells us that because we know this, we can count suffering as joy. And Romans 5:3-5 tells us that the starting place of pain is actually the beginning of a process that leads to patience, then experience, then hope.  

Perhaps we are setting ourselves up for disappointment when we believe an answer will come that does not require patient perseverance. And perhaps we would find more heart to rejoice when we remember that God is using depression itself to work a mature faith in our lives.  

Focus on eternity, not on healing. 

The psalmist of Psalm 13:1 cries outHow long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? Second Corinthians 4:16-18 answers, “We do not lose heart… for momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”   

One of the gifts of depression can be the way it reveals the emptiness of living for anything less than the glory of God. But we lose that gift when our entire focus becomes the here and now. 

Even if sadness lasts for a lifetime, it cannot last for eternity. And, once again, we take hope in God’s promises. 

  • He promises to conform us to the image of Christ—Romans 8:28–29 
  • He promises that He is at work in our suffering—Romans 8:18 
  • He promises that He loves us and that nothing will separate us from His love—Romans 8:35–39 

 

Know your physical and emotional limits, and honor them as a form of humility.  

Sleep, exercise, nutritious food, and carefulness in one’s schedule all make a difference, especially as they are sustained as a way of life. Taking the time for physical and emotional replenishment is wise. 

Not only do these disciplines express humility, but they also acknowledge that we are only earthen vessels and the power is all of God. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7).   

Do not fight alonebut don’t put your ultimate hope in others. 

One of the challenges of the, “Are you struggling with depression? Reach out and get help” theme is that it indicates—at least to a struggler—that hope is a phone call or appointment away.  

In truth, someone who is struggling should reach out. God designed us to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), which by implication means there are times we need help to carry our burden. Also, God often gives wisdom through the counsel of others, and there may very well be times when one needs medical intervention.  

You don’t have to share with everyone, but share with a few who will help you fight well (Proverbs 18:24). Having a few friends to whom you can reach out for prayer, counsel, encouragement, and help to refocus on God’s promises is incredibly important in the battle against depression. 

Get help” needs to be said in conjunction with, “Hope in God.” As Jeremiah 17:5-8 tells us that God, and God alone, can sustain the long, weary struggle. And He does it through sources no human can generate.  

Remember you are part of an army, not a single soldier.  

Depression has a way of making you feel isolated. This can lead to a sense that your victory or defeat is irrelevant to others—a thought that is directly counter to reality. Every person’s life matters because they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and because their life intersects with others. But for the Christian, there is added intersection with other lives through the local church and the sacrificial sharing of the gospel (Hebrews 10:24-25). Because Christ has died for us, our life is to be sacrificially given for Him. Paul makes this very point in 2 Corinthians 5:15: “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” 

Your victory matters. Not just to you, but to the entire army. So fight on, and fight well. And don’t be afraid to, even as Joab admonished his brother (2 Samuel 10:11), call out for help when the battle becomes overwhelming.

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Jim Newheiser
Dr. Jim Newheiser is the Director of the Christian Counseling Program and Associate Professor of Christian Counseling and Practical Theology at RTS Charlotte. He is also the Director of the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship (IBCD). Dr. Newheiser serves as both a board member and fellow for ACBC. He has been married to his wife Caroline for 36 years and they have three adult children.
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