Healing Line

Healing Line

Tidings of Comfort & Joy

by Linda Strickland
Nov/Dec 2011

When our son Shon was a student at Florida State University, he lived in a condominium with two roommates. He called one day and asked if he could come by that night because he had something he wanted to discuss with his dad and me. Although he came over multiple times a month to eat, get haircuts, and do laundry, I could tell by his voice that he was not asking for a social visit. The fact that he asked permission to come over should have been my first clue that something was wrong. He had never before called ahead.

Shon has always been the joy of my life. It makes me smile just to see him walk in the room. When he walked into our house that night, however, I did not feel like smiling. He looked terrible! As we all sat down in the living room, I could feel my stomach tensing up…What in the world was wrong?

He began to tell us about how he had been going through a hard time. He could not concentrate on much of anything and was having difficulty going to class. He admitted that he had in fact not been to classes in several weeks. I recall him telling us that most of his time was spent in bed, unable to move. Friends would bring him food and try and make him eat. He said he felt like he was falling down a dark hole with nothing to stop the fall. He didn’t know what was happening to him, but he knew he was in trouble.

What???? Was I really hearing this from my son whom I knew so well? Impossible!  No way! I saw him regularly at least three or four times a week. I would have known…wouldn’t I? He had seemed very normal each time I saw him. (At least normal for a college student.)

He told me it was all an act. He would muster every bit of strength he had before coming to our house and then proceed to “act” as though everything was fine. He would even laugh and joke around with me as usual, but it was all a façade. He would then go back to his house and go straight to bed.

I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. This was my precious son, whom I adored beyond words. How could I be so unaware??

That question haunted me then, and in some ways, it still does.

I am so grateful that he chose to come to us for help, and after talking, we immediately came up with a three point plan. Number one was to immediately get him into his doctor for a full physical. The second thing was to get him an appointment with a therapist. The third was to get him an appointment with our priest. Body, mind and spirit…we wanted to cover all three areas of his life. It turned out that Shon did, in fact, have a chemical imbalance and was diagnosed as clinically depressed.

Depression is more than discouragement, which is a transient state with an obvious cause and the person is still able to function normally. The symptoms of depression can include prolonged sadness, irritability, extreme worry, sleep disorder, feelings of worthlessness, loss of interest in things that used to be of interest, loss of energy, hopelessness, inability to concentrate, racing mind, and even suicidal thoughts.

Although Shon had many of these symptoms, he did not have them all.  His case was considered a milder one. Left untreated, however, he would likely have gotten worse. As prescribed by his medical doctor, he went on medication for a length of time and improved very rapidly. Although it is still a mystery to me how I did not see the symptoms, I have since learned that depression is far more common than I once thought.

We live in an age that that has been described as the “Age of Anxiety.” Currently, clinical depression is the leading cause of disability in North America. According to the World Health Organization, depression is expected to become the second leading cause of disability worldwide by the year 2020 (after heart disease). Current theories on the causes of depression can be classified into two categories: physiological (genetic disposition) and socio-psychological. Depression is complex, because the brain itself is so complex. As with any form of mental illness, normal brain function has been interrupted for some reason.

Depression can be defined as a medical condition caused by a depletion of certain neurotransmitters, which makes it a medical illness. Anti-depressants may be part of the necessary treatment, just as insulin is needed for diabetes, and individual treatment will vary. Research has shown that we can have a genetic predisposition to depression. (In Shon’s case, depression shows up on both sides of his family tree). Under certain conditions, the brain slows down its manufacturing process of serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are necessary for normal brain function. Depression can also be a result of severe childhood trauma. Recent researchers have discovered that the brain can actually modify its DNA and RNA composition. The good news is that through prayer, counseling and medical treatment, normal brain function can often be restored.

We recently polled a group of students on our campus asking how many of them either struggled with or knew of someone who was struggling with depression. 100% of the room (85 students) raised their hands. And we have the same result every time we ask the question.

Statistics show that just as many Christians as non-Christians suffer from depression, and sadly, the church can be guilty of suppressing or down-playing the need for treatment of what can be a very debilitating disorder. It is common for a church leader to say that medical treatment is not necessary - that one only needs to read scripture or rebuke the “spirit of depression.” We have heard this over and over again in our interviews with prayer recipients. This attitude shows a lack of understanding that can hinder healing and create shame and self-worth issues.

The good news is that depression is a very treatable illness and a disorder from which people can be restored when healing prayer, coupled with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ, is incorporated as an integral part of a doctor’s orders.

As we enter into the Christmas Season, I want to encourage you to reach out with “Comfort and Joy” to your friends and family who suffer with depression, as their feelings of anxiety can heighten during the holidays. Giving someone hope is one of the most incredible gifts you can give.  And if you find yourself in a depressed place, please reach out to your loved ones and ask for help.

Merry Christmas, and in the coming year may God provide all that you have hoped for or imagined!

Taken in part from the teaching Depression in CHM’s SHP II
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Linda Strickland Linda Strickland is CHM's Associate Director of Ministry and Assistant to Judith MacNutt. Magazine Issue

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