You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend. Psalm 88:18
The dark days of December can be a catalyst which brings to the surface all the negative thoughts that have brewed in the kettle of physical weariness and despondency. I couldn’t help thinking of that when I encountered three individuals who struggled with the demon of depression at the same time.
One was a respected musician and Christian leader, the composer of many hymns and songs with a list of theatrical credits almost as long as he was old who barricaded himself in his church office during Christmas week and ended his life with a gunshot to the head.
The same week a renowned pediatric heart surgeon, one of the finest in the world, unable to climb out of the pit of depression, took his life. This brilliantly gifted doctor performed 830 operations on children in 18 months with a 2% mortality rate. He had been featured on television documentaries and was worshipped by his patients. He was 45.
The third in this dark trilogy is a friend of many years, also a doctor, a cardiologist who has spent her life helping people along with her husband, a surgeon. Both served as medical missionaries.
The third is recovering, but depression for the first two was fatal. Whenever the world, to say nothing of our families and close friends, is deprived of the presence of so great an individual it is a massive collective loss. We pass laws to protect people. We monitor our water, our food, and our borders to insure safety, but laws or boundaries can’t protect us from the darkness demon of depression.
Elderly people whose health has failed and who have little to look forward to are classic sufferers with depression, but today it is not only the elderly but those in the middle years with success and significance.
Why does this happen? And what can be done to prevent it? No one could answer those questions in two minutes. Depression is complex. It is not a lack of spirituality, or a deficiency in comprehending God’s plan or purpose for our lives. Christians as well as non-believers suffer, though I am confident that there are resources which can help the believer survive whereas others give up entirely on life.
Every person is a composite of the emotional, the physical, and the spiritual. There are times when depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain—something a person is no more responsible for than are those of us who wear glasses or have corrective surgery because a heart valve isn’t working properly.
But depression affects your thinking as you begin to doubt what you know to be true, and see darkness rather than light, and live in a funk that seems to press upon you. Telling someone to “snap out of it” is as senseless as telling a drowning individual to swim. I’m thinking of the woman who poured out her heart, tears streaming down her face, as she said, “God knows I would snap out of it if I only knew how!”
Surrounding an individual who is encountering depression with understanding, compassion, and strength is a beginning in helping build fences that save lives and help restore health and sanity. Ignoring those who hurt or trivializing the problem only makes it worse. God is not indifferent to those who suffer, whether it is a brilliant surgeon, a gifted teacher or intellectual, or a gray-haired grandfather who has worked a steady job over the years, whose health has failed and whose mental equilibrium has gone on strike.
There is both help and hope for the one who is depressed. While the road back may be painful and long, there is a way out of the darkness.
Resource reading: Job 17