“You are not alone!” Fighting depression together

Thoughts going round and round in circles and unable to feel the slightest thing—depression is a disorder that can affect anybody, and yet it meets with little understanding. How can the ministers and the members help those suffering from depression?

Miriam*, 15 years old, wants to see and hear nothing. Her room is the only place she still feels good in. She stays in bed for days on end and has no energy to leave the house. Markus*, who is rector of a congregation and the department head in a government agency, works till he drops. He can no longer relax, lies awake at night, and cannot concentrate on his work during the day.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4: 4) This Bible text was the basis of a divine service that the Chief Apostle celebrated in Pforzheim in Germany on 1 September 2013. The Chief Apostle knows that not everyone is able to be joyful: “There are brothers and sisters who suffer from depression and who may now say, ‘I can’t possibly be joyful in my condition.’ Dear brothers and sisters, we know that. I would like to state very clearly: this does not reflect the condition of your soul! This is a sickness that affects the mind, the body, the human being.”

Not a sign of weakness

“Depression is far more than feeling sad,” Andrea Häger, a psychologist, says. “People suffering from depression are often incapable of any emotion.” The main symptoms are feelings of sadness, hopelessness, the inability to feel joy and pleasure, and listlessness. “In families where depression has occurred, there is an increased susceptibility to it.”

Yet this disorder can affect anyone—also people who are seen as tough and successful like Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, who was haunted by depression and called it the “black dog”. Or Angelina Jolie, the American actress, who said that she spent years in a kind of inner darkness.

Such symptoms, which are today diagnosed as depression or burnout, were already known in biblical times. Elijah, for example, went to lie under a bush and wanted to die (1 Kings 19). Or the psalmist who said: “My heart is stricken and withered like grass, so that I forget to eat my bread” (Psalm 102: 4).

Consult a specialist as soon as possible

What the ancient Greeks called melancholia was classified as a moral sin by the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages and as temptations of the Devil by the early Protestants. It was only during the Enlightenment that this affliction was recognized as a disorder. It was given the name “depression” in the nineteenth century.

According to a study by the World Health Organization, about fifteen percent of all people will come down with a depressive episode once in their life. Eighty per cent of those affected will experience repeated episodes. And about fifteen to twenty per cent of patients commit suicide.

That is why it is so important that people consult a specialist as soon as possible. “Depression is an illness, not a sign of a lack of faith,” says Andrea Häger, the psychologist. “I mean, you don’t advise people with a toothache, ‘Pray, and the pain will go away.’”

Compassion and prayer

But ministers and members can really provide support to brothers and sisters who suffer from depression and their families, Apostle Wilhelm Hoyer says, by “being sensitive and compassionate, listening patiently, being consoling and encouraging, and by praying together fervently”.

“People with depression need a lot of closeness and love,” Miriam says, who is 22 years old today. “Take them by the hand, tell them that they are not alone, that you are always there for them. It did me a lot of good when I heard that some of the members were praying for me. It gave me a lot of strength.”

And this is what the Chief Apostle proceeded to underline in the divine service in Pforzheim: “Dear brother, dear sister, we will continue to pray for you! God loves you, even if you cannot feel it today!”

This experience gives you the strength to help others in turn. That is how Markus* experienced it. He is a Priest. “It is useful in the context of my soulcare work. I know what it is like to not have the strength to pray, to not be able to believe that God has good intentions with you, because I have been there. But I also experienced over and over that He is with me, and that enriched me.”

*The name has been changed by the editor / Photo: eyetronic - Fotolia

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Andreas Rother
Congregational life