In 2008 I suffered a bout of depression, which lasted several months. It was a difficult period for me, getting up each morning to face a new day was a challenge. I had no motivation or desire to work, I had lost my sense of focus and joy in life, and my relationship with God suffered as I struggled to find the motivation to pray. Fortunately for me, my depression was very mild compared to what some people go through.
My experience is not unusual; in a report published in 2008 the The Royal College of Psychiatrists wrote that depression affects one in five people at some point in their lives. For example 25% of clergy time off in the Church of England is caused by depression. Yet as a nation and as a church we are still not very good at talking about mental health issues.
During my bout of depression, only Beata was aware of how I was feeling. One of the reasons for this was because there was part of me which felt that as a Christian to acknowledge I was depressed almost felt like failure, showing lack of trust in God – I realise however that this is NOT true. Depression and other mental health issues can affect Christians and non Christians alike – it is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith.
Fortunately understanding about mental health issues has increased considerably over the years, and there is less of a stigma surrounding this issue than there used to be, but we still have a long way to go. Talking about these issues and recognising that this is something many people (including Christians) struggle with is an important first step. If you know someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, low self esteem, or any other mental health issue, the most important thing you can do is to be there for them, helping and supporting people by providing a non judgemental listening ear. The love, support, and prayers that I received from St Martin's when I eventually acknowledged that I had been struggling helped me tremendously.
If you are someone who is going through a difficult time at the moment, here are some tips which I hope will prove helpful.
- Try to keep hold of God's promises in the Bible. Even if God feels distant, he isn't — it's a feeling caused by the depression. He is present, and still cares and forgives.
- Make a choice not to withdraw from things that would normally bring a sense of pleasure, achievement, or closeness to others.
- Think back to times when you have had a sense of closeness to God.
- Read encouraging psalms and Bible verses, a list is available at http://www.mindandsoul.info/
- Keep a routine of prayer, even if this is really short.
- Seek medical help. Ask your GP what help might be available locally.
- Keep some contact with church. This may include going to smaller and quieter services, or turning up late and leaving early so that it doesn't feel too much.
- Pray with trusted others, even if it's just for a short time. Ask them to pray for you.
- Live healthily. Fitness, food, and sleep matter, and can often be overlooked when we feel low.
- Say "no" to some things. Balance demands that you have space to recover.