BCC Staff Note: You are reading Part 4 of a BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on depression. Read Part 1: How to Pray When You’re Depressed, and Part 2: Ephesians for the Depressed, and Part 3: Injecting the Light of HOPE.
Everyone struggles with living in the unpredictability of this fallen world. However, some have a more difficult time than others. What separates the resilient from the downtrodden? One difference is the way in which they handle difficult situations encountered along life’s journey.
Those who struggle may develop a type of melancholy that I will call situational depression. Situational depression is a type of depression triggered by adverse circumstances and differs from ordinary sadness in three ways.
First, situational depression has a greater duration than sadness. Whereas someone experiencing sadness usually rebounds within a few days, situational depression tends to last longer than two weeks at a time.
Second, situational depression has a greater depth than sadness. While sad people can generally function in their daily lives, situationally depressed individuals have a difficult time performing simple cognitive tasks and struggle to make what we might call “if/then” connections between behaviors and consequences.
Third, situational depression has a grimmer disposition than sadness. Sad people often maintain a fairly coherent view of themselves, others, and the future. In contrast, situationally depressed people examine their lives, relationships, and futures and see nothing but hopelessness. The biblical counselor who recognizes these signs would do well to minister Psalm 42-43 to the heart of the depressed person.
Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one poem. In this work, the Psalmist paints the picture of a wounded person, sitting in the darkness, awaiting God’s deliverance. The Psalmist’s experience mirrors the experience of depressed people and teaches them where to look as they fight with the darkness.
The Psalm opens with the writer looking back at the way things used to be (Psalm 42:1-4). He remembers feeling close to God and laments the fact that he is exiled in a far country (Psalm 42: 6b-7), separated from his God, and experiencing terrible persecution (Psalm 42:9-10).
Depressed people often feel just like the Psalmist in that they cannot believe that the very thing that brought them contentment has been torn from their hearts. The difference between the Psalmist and the depressed person is that the depressed person gets stuck in the past. He becomes like a broken record as he repeatedly replays the story that led to his despondency. In contrast, the Psalmist refuses to stay mired in the past. He resolves to forward in spite of his situation. He takes his eyes off of the past and reflects on his internal experience in the present. He quits looking back and starts looking in.
There is a common refrain that runs through the Psalm (Psalm 42:5-6a; 42:11; and 43:5). This refrain holds the key that unlocks the spiritually depressed person’s prison door. The Psalmist becomes aware of his condition and verbalizes it. He boldly asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me” (Psalm 42:5a, 42:11a, and 43:5a, ESV).
Before climbing out of his pit of despair, a depressed person must put down his shovel. As the depressed person becomes aware of his internal experience, he suddenly realizes that he has two options. First, he can sinfully keep digging deeper into darkness or he can repentantly look up to Christ for help.
As the Psalmist looks up, he makes a conscious decision to place his hope in God regardless of his circumstances. Instead of relying on self-sufficiency, he places his destiny in the hands of his Creator by bolding asserting a, “Hope in God” (Psalm 42:5b; 42:11b; and 43:5b, ESV).
Whereas a depressed person will focus on telling you what he has done in his attempts to escape his darkness, the Psalmist focuses on what God will do. This step requires that the depressed person focus on Jesus instead self while sitting in the darkness. By looking up to Jesus, he can look out to the future with hope.
The Psalmist looks out to the future by declaring, “for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5c-6a; 42:11c; and 43:5c, ESV). Notice how the Psalmist does not deny the gravity of his current situation; instead, his focus on Christ transcends his hopelessness and he feels revitalized as he awaits his deliverance. I
In the same way, the depressed person must become a watchman who diligently looks out over the landscape anticipating the arrival of God’s “light” and “truth” (Psalm 43:3a). He must become so focused on searching for the Light that he becomes blinded to his current darkness. How does this Psalm translate into counseling practice?
The A-B-C’s of Helping the Situationally Depressed
Here are three things that biblical counselors can encourage in situationally depressed parishioners:
- A: Acknowledge” Help the person acknowledge his internal state. Often depressed people struggle with admitting the part that they are playing in perpetuating their depression. They often shift the blame to their situation or others without recognizing that their self-centered perspective on the problem helps keep it alive. Counselors must help the depressed person ask and explore the question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?”
- B: Believe” Encourage the person to believe in the God of hope. Help the depressed person see all of the ways that he is relying upon himself instead of putting his faith in God. Counselors must help the depressed person exclaim, “Hope in God!”
- C: Confess: Lead the person to a place where he can confess his faith in God as he awaits his deliverance. Call attention to God’s past faithfulness and his current sustaining work in the person’s life. Help the person tie God’s steadfast love (Psalm 42:8) to his guarantee of future hope. Rejoice with the person in helping him declare, “for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God!”
Join the Conversation
As you think about ministering to situationally depressed people, what are some additional ways that you have found helpful in redirecting their focus off of themselves and onto Christ?