Understanding Depression

Here’s a look at the problem and its symptoms—and how to find hope and healing.
Dear Ignite Your Faith,
I’m going to be checked for depression. In the last few years, God has been the only one keeping me alive, but now, suicide is the only thing I can think of to solve my problems. What should I do? Please help.

We often get letters like Angel’s. And she’s hardly alone. According to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), one in 12 teenagers suffers from depression.

We wanted to know how Ignite Your Faith readers are doing, so we did a survey. Fifty-two percent of you say you struggle with depression, while forty-four percent say a friend struggles with it.

Clearly, many of you deal with emotional pain, whether it’s sadness, anger, guilt or whatever. Some of you deal with it daily, sometimes with no end in sight. As one reader said, “Depression can be a long, hard, painful journey.” For others, that pain comes and goes, or they’ve experienced it in the past.

That’s a lot of heartache that, sometimes, feels like outright hopelessness. Many of you hide your pain. Some of you tell others. And some of you are getting the professional help you need.

Let’s take a closer look at depression, first by defining it.

What Is It?

We’ll start by saying there’s more than one way to define “depressed.” The American Heritage Dictionary begins with these two definitions:

1. Low in spirits; dejected. 2. Suffering from psychological depression.

Almost everyone experiences the first definition at some time. We all get sad or have “the blues” on occasion. Whether you’re bummed about your favorite NFL team losing last Sunday, or bombing on a test, or a rift in a relationship, it might help to know that most people have those feelings at some time or another.

If you’re experiencing that type of depression, take comfort in knowing that it will likely pass in a relatively short time. In the meantime, keep going to church, praying and reading your Bible (the Psalms can be especially helpful). Do fun things with friends and family; don’t spend too much time brooding alone in your bedroom. And talk to someone you trust—a parent, a teacher, a coach, a youth leader, a pastor.

But what if you’re experiencing “psychological depression,” the second definition? Certainly, you should be doing the things recommended in the last paragraph. But if you have psychological depression—also known as “clinical depression”—you should see a professional, because this type of depression is a very real illness, just as real as cancer or the common cold.

As you continue reading this, that’s our working definition of “depression.” We’re referring to psychological or clinical depression.

Clinical depression is often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s not “just in your mind.”

Depression is usually treatable with a combination of medicine and counseling. Unfortunately, less than half of depressed people actually seek treatment. According to the NMHA, people resist treatment “because they believe depression isn’t serious, that they can treat it themselves, or that it is a personal weakness rather than a serious medical illness.”