What is Depression?

Column Post by Beth Cranford

“Whenever I’m depressed I go shopping.”

“If you’re depressed you’re not trusting God.”

“I get so depressed on bill paying day.”

How often do you hear similar comments or even say them? With the commonly accepted use of the word “depressed” it’s no wonder we don’t have an accurate understanding of what depression really is. The misuse of the word has contributed to misunderstanding of—and therefore a widespread inappropriate reaction to—depression.

Many people who are clinically depressed don’t recognize it as such, because their symptoms don’t match the overused notion of depression (which often amounts to feeling down in the dumps, usually in response to a particular source of stress or disappointment). Failure to recognize depression for what it truly is will delay or even prevent the depressed person from getting the help she needs.

Even among those who do recognize that they are clinically depressed, finding empathy among friends and family can be difficult. Too many people hold the misconception that depression is simply an overreaction to ordinary troubles in life, or that the depressed person is just looking for an excuse to be lazy or antisocial.

Others believe they have been depressed when what they actually experienced may have been sadness, exhaustion, the “baby blues” or another source of stress that caused negative feelings. While these are all difficult and unpleasant, they are not depression. Believing you’ve been depressed when you haven’t diminishes your ability to empathize with and offer help to someone who really is.

On the other end of the spectrum people may use the word “depression” as a mask or an excuse. Instead of facing the uncomfortable and unappealing consequences of living a foolish life, they find it easy to blame their life-issues on “depression.” It seems like the easy route at first, but their true problem is not being addressed.

Depression is not the same as a bad mood or feeling sad or blue. Depression is not something a person can choose to “snap out of”, nor is it merely an emotional illness. Depression is caused by a disturbance of the intricate and delicately balanced chemical system in your brain. It is a physical illness, every bit as much as cancer and diabetes are physical illnesses.

How do I know depression is a physical illness?  First, there is overwhelming scientific evidence to that effect. Second, I’ve experienced it. In each of my four significant episodes with depression, there was a specific, definable moment that I felt the “black curtain” fall over my life. The circumstances of my life did not change so drastically in mere moments as to throw me into a deep depression. What changed so drastically and suddenly was the balance of chemicals and hormones in my brain as my body attempted to respond to my life circumstances.

Check back next week for more about the signs of depression and how to take action to overcome it.


P.S. We’d love to know your thoughts, so please be sure to comment below. Each of our commenters will be entered in a drawing for our current FREE book giveaway, Mothers & Daughters: Mending a Strained Relationship by author Teena Stewart. 

Beth Cranford believes every Christian has been equipped and empowered to do specific and effective work in the kingdom of God. It is her heart’s desire to see women live in the freedom that is theirs through Christ by helping them break free from depression and other strongholds. She encourages women to experience God’s power in their lives by understanding their identity and position in Christ and their unique design.

Beth has a passion for helping Christian parents design and implement an education that honors and nurtures their children’s individual design, equipping them for a life of freedom and power.

Beth has been married to her best friend for 21 years. Together they raise and educate their two children in middle TN. You can find her at http://www.bethcranford.com


15 thoughts on “What is Depression?

  1. Hi Beth, Back in the early 1970’s I went through a very long bout of major depression that included suicidal ideation and became enhanced by complicated grief (suicides of both brother and father happened during this decade long illness). I remember some of the things that were said to me by well-meaning friends that almost pushed me over the edge. Apparently, it should have all cleared up if I would simply stop (literally) turn around (literally) and say out loud, “get thee behind me Satan!” When it didn’t work for me, I thought God didn’t love me, I was on my way to hell, and therefore, I should give up and just get going to my final destination. I wish I could say that I look back on that now that I am well and find it funny, but I’m afraid I don’t. I now treat people with major depression (I became a psychotherapist) and often hear family members say similar things such as you mentioned. You make very good points.

    • Wow Linda, thanks for sharing that. I’m so sorry that depression brought that much hurt to you and your family. It hurts me to hear people say things like what you were told, and that there is never a justification for depression medication. As far as I can tell, God heals in many ways, through various means. Who are we to say that He can’t / doesn’t use medicine, therapy, etc. Not to say that medicine is a magic bullet, but it may be part of someone’s healing process and it doesn’t make them any less godly than the next person.

      I know that spiritual warfare can be part of depression, or the cause in some cases, but I think that what you were told was irresponsible at best. God is not a formula and neither is warfare. I do pray that there will come a day when we as a church will stop shooting our wounded. I know, like you said, people mean well, but we need to slow down with our opinions and start offering prayer and support instead.

      Sorry, didn’t mean to write such a rant.

  2. Thank you for this information, Beth. I am looking forward to next week’s post. I am so glad that we are getting a better understanding of what depression really is and how it can be treated.

  3. What highly disturbs me the most about people’s ignorance to depression are their distorted idea’s about medicine. They believe the answer is to simply pop a pill, such as an antidepressant and Poof! Just like that the depression disappears. If only it were that easy…

    • I lost my husband 4 years ago and have been lonely at time but this year has been the worst and I’ve become quite depressed lately. I had no idea how debilitating this can be. I’ve tried some anti-depressants to no avail but hopefully it will be worked out. My son has been depressed since he was a child and I had no idea what he was going through. While he was here this past weekend I told him I was sorry and that I had NO idea what he was going through. He is 48 now and still struggles with it but with medicine he is doing pretty good. I tell myself that God is showing me what others feel in depression.

      • I’m so sorry about your loss and your own battle with depression. Please try not to beat yourself up about not understanding what your son has been going through most of his life. No one can understand depression until they’ve been there themself. I was once so depressed I wanted to kill myself and was put in a hospital for a week while they tried to get my medication straightened out. I used to not understand how anyone, especially a mother could even think about killing themselfs but I was so far in depression that at the time even the thoughts of my children were gone. I just hurt so bad that I did not want to live anymore. Sometimes I still have some really bad days but I don’t think of taking my own life anymore. I know that would be a sin and I would’nt go to the place that God has prepared for me in Heaven. I have at times went to where my Dad was buried and cry out to God to take me Home. It’s not His will for me. I know He has things for me to do first. I recently went through a terrible divorce after 15 years of abusive. Now I have cancer but I shall live and not die!!

    • You’re so right Dana. On one hand we have people who preach that using medicine means you’re not depending on God. On the other we have those who just want to take a pill and move on. Neither view is accurate or healthy.

  4. I was one of those under the impression that depression had to do with a deep sadness, until I was diagnosed with it. Actually I was terrified when I realized that I was not remembering things that happened yesterday, I had lost all focus and experienced sporadic exhaustion. I called my doctor and said something was wrong with my brain when they asked me why I wanted an appointment. Something WAS wrong with my brain. Even with medication I have to work for focus and still find myself wondering sometimes what I did with something yesterday so I can do the same today. It’s AWFUL.

    • Hi Sarah! As I read your comment I related to what you wrote about feeling as if something is wrong with your brain. Over 17 years ago, I contemplated the exact same question. Then I began searching for real answers to my real problem. Eventually, I was professionally evaluated and diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which is known as ADHD. Strangely, I was unaware that adults may have ADHD; I had thought it was a child disorder.

      The good news is there is help for those who struggle with ADHD/ADD. We may be “wired” differently, but God created us with a higher purpose. Not to harm us or cause us to feel like failures, but to use our God-given gifts where we have strengths.

      As an ADDer adult, there is much hope for successfully focusing and living a productive life. Begin by first reading and educating yourself about ADHD. Consider having an ADHD expert who specializes in adults to “rule in” or “rule out” if you truly have ADHD. I pray you obtain the necessary answers to your questions. Always look for solutions and never give up hope!

      • Dana, thanks so much for sharing that, I think it will be very helpful. Sarah, I agree with Dana that you should keep searching for answers. It seems like you’re dealing with something other than or in addition to depression. I don’t mean to discourage you, I mean for you to be encouraged by realizing that you’re not stuck with the limited improvement you’ve seen so far.

        • Thank you so much Dana and Beth! I have a new direction to explore! I am so excited. I have really been struggling with this.

          • Sarah, one book I highly recommend, which was life-changing for me is called Women with Attention Deficit Disorder by Sari Solden, MS and LMFT. Today, I read on amazon that there is an updated version of this book available at Barnes & Noble for a reasonable price. Another option is to check your local library. Specifically read ADHD books pertaining to adult females. It will prove eye opening and extremely educational. I wish you all of the best!

  5. Thank you Beth for such an insightful article. Too many times people in their ignorance and fear say things that could further damage those who are struggling so. It is time that the church learn they don’t have to fix and judge others but be supportive and loving and sometimes just being silent in doing so. This will help many who are there!!!

    • Yes Dixie, we do seem to have a tendency to try to fix people. When we don’t know the answer we just make something up, because somehow that feels better than simply saying “I don’t know the answer, but I’ve got direct access to the one who does, I’ll pray for you.”

      I’m trying to learn this lesson myself.

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