After more than a year of isolation, wearing masks, missing church, and viewing every other person as a potential threat, COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be on the wane. People emerged from isolation, churches reopened, and the world seemed ready to right itself. Then the COVID virus mutated and everything went back to ground zero. Once again hospitals and treatment centers are full and the lines for COVID testing are long. Worse yet, even people who had been fully vaccinated appear to be susceptible to this new strain of the virus. Some have actually caught it and died.
Because of COVID 2.0, cases of depression are on the rise. For many people, returning to a state of isolation is too much to bear. Isolation was difficult enough with COVID 1.0, but the vaccine and better treatment methods gave people hope that the end of the pandemic was near. But for many COVID 2.0 has wiped out that hope and replaced it with a feeling of helplessness. In a blog I wrote on depression more than a year ago, I drew a distinction between discouragement and depression. If you are feeing down in the dumps because of the emergence of COVID 2.0, knowing the difference between the two is important.
Discouragement and depression are related concepts, but they are not the same thing, and the difference is important. We often say we are depressed when, in fact, we are just sad, frustrated, or discouraged. To be discouraged is to feel hopeless, gloomy, dejected, or downhearted over circumstances in your life. Discouragement can sap you of your enthusiasm for life and rob you of your confidence. Discouragement is not depression, but prolonged discouragement can lead to depression. The purpose of this blog is to help you prevent discouragement from evolving into depression. Let’s look at what it means to be depressed.
To be depressed is also to feel hopeless, gloomy, dejected, or downhearted over circumstances in your life, but it is more than just this. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) used by mental-health professionals, depressed individuals will experience five or more of the following symptoms during the same two-week period and the symptoms must include the first two on the list:
Depressed mode most of the day, nearly every day.
Marked loss of interest or pleasure.
Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
An observable slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement.
Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
Because we live in a fallen world, occasional bouts of discouragement are unavoidable. While we often contribute to our own problems by making bad choices, discouraging circumstances are not always the result of bad choices. Sometimes they are caused by factors over which we have no control, factors like those brought on by the emergence of COVID 2.0. These kinds of circumstances—those over which we have no control—are more likely to lead to depression because they make us feel helpless. The two most powerful causal elements of depression are helplessness and hopelessness. Consequently, it is important to know how to deal with discouragement in ways that will restore your enthusiasm for the life God has given you. Said another way, it is important for you to know how to be blessed rather than depressed.
How to deal with discouragement so it does not morph into depression is explained herein. How to deal with depression is not. If you or someone you love are experiencing the symptoms of depression, it is important to seek help from mental-health professionals immediately. Discouragement can be handled without professional help, but this is not the case with depression. Depression can be so debilitating professional intervention is a must.
HOW TO BE BLESSED INSTEAD OF DEPRESSED
If you are discouraged but not depressed, your best source of help is Holy Scripture. The Bible contains valuable lessons about coping with discouragement. One important lesson is that when you feel discouraged it is important to remember two things: 1) God is bigger than whatever is causing your discouragement so you are not helpless, and 2) God has a plan for you. His plan is for your good; it’s a plan that provides hope for a better future (Jeremiah 29:11).
It is easy to get so wrapped up in your own plans—plans that don’t always work out—that you forget there is a bigger and better plan at work in your life. When you feel discouraged, step back from the problems you are dealing with and ask God to reveal his plan to you. The things that are discouraging you now—things like COVID 2.0—might actually be part of his plan. God could be using these problems to strengthen your faith.
Another important lesson is that you should never go it alone when trying to cope with discouragement. Trying to cope with discouragement by yourself can lead to a feeling of helplessness. The problems you face may be bigger than you—hence your discouragement—but they aren’t bigger than God. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast our anxieties on God who cares for us. Ask the Lord to take your hand and walk you through darkness. With the Lord at your side, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is Christ.
Another important lesson from Scripture is that factors out of your control can be the cause of your discouragement. When this is the case, it is important to remember that no matter what those factors happen to be, God is bigger than they are. This is the message in Romans 8:31 where we read “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The circumstances causing your discouragement may appear to have power over you, but their power—no matter what its source may be—is nothing compared to the power of God. Put your faith, trust, and hope in God when circumstance leave you feeling discouraged.
A final lesson is that no matter how dark things seem to be now, you have the help of a God who will never leave or forsake you. Consequently, you need not be dismayed, discouraged, or distraught. This is the message in Deuteronomy 31:8. Instead be patient and put your faith in the Lord. He knows you are struggling and why. No matter how dark things may seem, you have the Holy Spirit beside you to provide all the help you need. All you have to do is call on the Lord in prayer.
These same four lessons from Scripture apply to people suffering from depression. However, without professional help, depressed people may not to be able to function sufficiently to apply these lessons. On the other hand, even with professional help depressed individuals may not completely recover without the help of Scripture. The key to dealing wisely with depression is to seek help from mental-health professionals first. Then once sufficiently stabilized to function, seek additional help from Scripture. The combination of professional help and Scriptural guidance is the prescription most likely to bring the best results.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com