What Are Some Practical Ways to Help Depression? What About Medication?

Question from a reader:

How do you handle depression after the loss of a spouse? Is medication an answer to overcoming depression? If not, what are some practical things that I can do to overcome depression?

Answer from Stephanie Anderson, EPM staff, with input from Doreen Button:

I’m so very sorry for this major loss in your life and am praying as I type that God would comfort and guide you as you navigate this grief journey. Feeling depressed after such a heartbreaking loss is a normal reaction to the abnormal reality of death in our cursed world. It is one of several stages you may pass through on your way through the “valley of dark shadows.” Learning to lean on your Good Shepherd’s arm through this valley (which, contrary to your current feelings does have an end) will go far in helping you bear your pain. Your life will never be the same; nevertheless, it can be good again. Be patient with yourself and pray for two or three people to join you on this journey, who will listen and who have also experienced loss and have successfully navigated that valley.

Below, you’ll find several resources that may be a helpful starting point for you.

Randy has written about depression several times on his blog, including here. He acknowledges that for some people at certain times, medication can be helpful and even necessary.

Here is some advice from Pastor David Murray:

Don’t rush to take antidepressants. Medication should rarely be the first option unless the situation is desperately bad. Often, people’s emotional upheaval is temporary and can be resolved with understanding, family support, pastoral care, counseling, addressing detrimental lifestyle choices, and repenting of any sinful habits. There are many other things we should do before resorting to medication.

Although we shouldn’t rush to medications, we shouldn’t rule them out either.

....One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that just popping a pill will cure depression. I’ve never seen anyone recover from depression by just taking medication. That’s because there’s usually a range of issues that need to be addressed. Medication can only work well when it’s part of a holistic package of care that addresses our whole humanity.

This is also a helpful article from counselor Ed Welch that touches on medication use. He says:

From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, “What is best and wise?” Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits.

Regarding personal practices you can integrate to overcome depression, I appreciate what David writes above about a “holistic package of care that addresses our whole humanity.” We are both physical and spiritual beings and any approach needs to take both into consideration. Last year Randy featured an interview on his blog. In it the author shared this advice which mentions both the spiritual and physical aspects:

You maintain that memorizing Bible verses doesn’t eliminate depression, but at the same time you say that God’s Word is imperative in coping with it. Could you elaborate?

When I recommend God’s Word as a weapon against depression, I am not saying that despondency evaporates when I read the Bible or meditate on a promise from God, or that regular devotions eliminate depression.  But I am saying that anchoring myself in God’s Word is integral to my endurance.  The promises of Scripture keep me from yielding to despair. Additionally, prayer and fellowship, counselling and/or medicine can all be helpful as well.

In my teaching at Columbia International University, when depression settles over me, I may go weeks at a time without feeling the presence of God. Satan whispers, “Why do you keep serving someone who’s absent. When is the last time you were conscious of His presence?  Cancel your next class and go home.”

But I lock my mental lens on Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Then I preach to myself: No, I haven’t felt God’s presence in a while. But His Word says He’s with me, so His presence doesn’t depend on my feelings.  His Word, which promises His presence, is far more reliable than my fickle feelings that question His presence.”

No matter what causes my depression, there is still a spiritual battle to fight.  Will I believe the hopeless messages that roll around in my mind when I’m depressed, or will I trust God’s Word?

What practical things do you do to combat your depression?

Exercise regularly.  Aerobic exercises release endorphins, a natural analgesic, which can temporarily improve mental outlook.

Call someone who is suffering, or write them an encouraging letter.  I ask God to help me focus on another’s need rather than stay absorbed in my own.

Do something constructive around the house. …The depression may not lift, yet I’m doing something constructive.

Call a close friend to pray for me over the phone.

Ask the Lord to sustain me so I can execute the day’s responsibilities for His glory.

Play with my dog. Farley, my 10-year-old dachshund, helps fill my depleted emotional tank as he greets me daily with tail-thumping, face-licking exuberance.

Also see the advice here.

Finally, Randy recommends Reflections of a Grieving Spouse: The Unexpected Journey from Loss to Renewed Hope by Norman Wright, and A Grace Disguised by Gerald Sittser. We also highly recommend finding a GriefShare group in your area.

Do you have a local church where you can receive support and encouragement and help? If not, EPM would be happy to recommend some churches in your area. Additionally, if you would like to pursue receiving some counseling support, here are some resources:

Focus on the Family: Counseling Consultation and Referrals “The consultation is available at no cost to you due to generous donor support and will be with one of our licensed or pastoral counseling specialists.”

KLOVE: Speak with a pastor

May God bless, comfort, and guide you.

Photo by bin foch on Unsplash

Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.