Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Donald P. Hall, M.D's book, Depression: A Biblical and Medical Approach to Emotional Wholeness, (Harvest House Publishers, 2009). 

Depression robs you of the joy God wants you to have in every part of your being: physical (injured brain cells), mental (sad and anxious thoughts), and spiritual (a crisis of faith).  So, to fight depression, you can be most successful with strategies that help your brain, mind, and spirit together.

Here's how you can heal from depression:

Recognize the symptoms.  Symptoms of depression include: inability to work or maintain loving relationships, insomnia, weight loss, low energy and motivation, lost interest in pleasure, irritability, obsessive self-criticism, hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide.

Stop substance abuse.  Excessively drinking alcohol or other destructive habits (like taking prescription medications that interact with each other) can fuel depression.  If you have a substance abuse problem, join a recovery support group.  Work to replace the bad habit with good habits.  Keep in mind that you're especially vulnerable to relapsing when you're hungry, angry, lonely, or tired - so try to avoid those situations as much as possible.  Stay away from the people and places that feed your bad habit, and surround yourself with people who support your new, healthy choices.

Medicate chemical imbalances.  Don't hesitate to ask a doctor about possibly prescribing you anti-depressive medication if necessary.  Depression is an illness that sometimes requires medication to help your brain chemistry return to normal and stimulate re-growth of brain cells that have been damaged.  Recognize that God can use medication as part of your path to healing, and that faith and medicine can work together to help you recover.  When choosing medications, ask for ones that target your specific symptoms, and get information on potential side effects.  Give your medications enough time to show how well they're working before deciding whether or not to continue them.

Adjust expectations of yourself.  Setting your expectations too high can cause stress that fuels depression.  Ask God to help you recognize your limits and find peace within them.  Rely on God's unlimited power working through you to help you face challenges, rather than worrying about how you'll handle them on your own.  Remember some specific ways God has helped you in the past, and expect Him to continue to help you in the future.  Thank God for how He has answered your prayers.  Rather than overreacting to stressful situations or resigning yourself to them, pray about them.  Place your full trust and confidence in God to work the circumstances of your life out in ways that accomplish good purposes, because He wants the best for you.

Revise your relationships with others.  Giving into unhealthy demands from other people can lead you to become depressed.  Learn how to set healthy boundaries, and how to say "no" to people's requests for your time and energy that won't work well for you.  Don't hold grudges after people hurt or offend you.  Instead, obey God's call to forgive them, relying on His help throughout the process.  Aim to restore your relationships with them by listening carefully to their thoughts and feelings, expressing yours respectfully, and setting some new, reasonable boundaries.

Stay on track with the Holy Spirit.  Following the Holy Spirit's guidance throughout the healing process will eventually empower you to live joyfully again.  Hand over your worries to God, trusting Him to handle them well.  Place your trust in your relationship with God rather than in any specific outcome.  Choose to honor God regardless of how He chooses to answer your prayers.  Continue to entrust each new challenge you face to God.  Develop a habit of telling God how you feel, asking for your desire, and surrendering to His will.  Surround yourself with hopeful people who enjoy their relationships with God; they'll encourage you to keep growing in your own faith.

Take good care of your brain.  If you care well for your brain, you can reduce your risk of depression that's caused by injury to brain cells.  Lower your stress levels by getting enough sleep and exercise, eating a nutritious diet, and spending time regularly in prayer and meditation.

Deal with emotional needs in healthy ways.  Everyone has these three important emotional needs: to feel safe, to believe in yourself as a good person, and to have a sense of power to change the world.  When these needs go unmet in your life, you may become depressed.  Ask God to give you the wisdom to know how to get your core emotional needs met in healthy ways.

Bring traumatic memories out into the open.  If you've experienced traumatic events in the past and repressed the memories of them, they may be fueling your depression.  Talk with some other believers you trust, your pastor, or a professional counselor, to work through your memories.

Overcome evil with good.  Every day, ask the Holy Spirit to renew your mind and help you focus on what's true and positive.  Stay close to God in prayer so you can keep Satan far away.  Talk with God often about your feelings.  Remember that God cares and will meet you where you are to help you get better.

Find a good counselor or psychiatrist.  Research some professionals who can counsel you about your depression.  Find out what their treatment approaches are and how much they charge.  Then choose one and try a few visits to see if it's a good fit for you.

Expect to get better.  Set a goal for yourself to feel much better within a year.  Keep praying and working through your healing, trusting God to help you every step of the way.

November 12, 2009

Adapted from Breaking through Depression: A Biblical and Medical Approach to Emotional Wholeness , copyright 2009 by Donald P. Hall, M.D.  Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Or., www.harvesthousepublishers.com.  

Dr. Donald Hall has more than 15 years of experience in the field of psychiatry and a passion to share his faith. He is the owner of the Riverside Counseling Center and is the author of two psychiatry handbooks and numerous medical journal articles.