As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches out into months with no end in sight, many people are becoming discouraged. Am I going to lose my home to foreclosure? How am I supposed to feed my kids when I don’t have a job? Will I be able to find a job after graduation? Will the university honor my athletic scholarship if next season has to be cancelled? Will there be college and professional sports seasons this year? Will my life ever be the same again? These are the kinds of questions people are asking themselves as the Corona Virus continues to disrupt our lives in ways we could never have predicted.
For some people, discouragement has morphed into depression. In fact, the number of people seeking treatment for depression has increased markedly during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, the suicide rate is climbing as a result of the isolation caused by the pandemic. For many people, the enforced isolation has become too much to bear. Isolation has been particularly hard on teenagers accustomed to spending a lot of time with their friends. As it turns out, social media can’t replace real human contact even for those who use it extensively.
Before proceeding, let me clarify terms. Discouragement and depression are related concepts, but they are not the same thing, and the difference is important. 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. Prolonged discouragement can lead to depression.
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 it is true that we often contribute to our own problems by making bad choices, discouraging circumstances are not always the result of our bad choices. Sometimes they are caused by factors over which we have no control, factors like those brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.
How to deal with discouragement 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 usually be handled without professional help, but this is not the case with depression. Depression can be so debilitating professional intervention is a must.
USING SCRIPTURE TO COPE WITH DISCOURAGEMENT
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, 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 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. 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 these 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 others are making you feel 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 Veterans’ Lament: Is This the America Our Heroes Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press: www.david-goetsch.com