Sunday, November 26, 2006

Psalm 42-43: Overcoming Depression

Pray & Read Psalm 42-43

Opening thought: Winston Churchill and Lady Astor were bitter enemies. Lady Astor was constantly trying to insult Churchill at public parties. Once at a social function, Lady Astor accosted Churchill, “Winston, if I were your wife, I’d put arsenic in your tea.”

Churchill replied, “Lady Astor, if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

On another occasion, late one night at a formal dinner party in front of international guests, Lady Astor confronted Churchill, “Winston, you are drunk. You are very drunk. You are exceedingly drunk.”

The Prime Minister retorted, “Lady Astor. You are ugly. You are very ugly. You are exceedingly ugly. And in the morning, I will be sober.”

The truth is, though Winston Churchill began drinking as a British soldier in east Africa by putting whisky in his water to kill microbes, later in life he drank to stave off what he called, “the black dog,” depression. Winston Churchill suffered from depression.

Textual Notes:

Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one song in the Hebrew Bible, but for some reason have been divided in our Bibles. Chapter divisions are not inspired by God but were made as a man read the Bible and made notes while riding horseback.

Psalm 42-43 is written as a meditation on depression and its cure – hope.

Notice the theme of hope running like a backbone through the whole song (42:5, 11; 43:5). See how the writer remembers his worship (42:4), then remembers God (42:6), then accuses God of not remembering him (42:9). See the parallelism of one day and night of tears and taunting (42:3) and one of love, song, and prayer (42:8). Notice the parallelism between “downcast” and “disturbed” and “hope” and “praise” (42:5, 11; 43:5).

Notice that the writer’s panting thirst (42:1-2) is filled with deep waterfalls (42:7), and while tears had been his food (42:3), he ends by sending up praise as a sacrifice to God (43:4).

INSIGHTS:

What is depression?

Depression is a condition in which our personal spirit is no longer capable of sustaining a person fully, either psychologically or physically.[1] We are all made in the image of God and those three persons in one are fully integrated so that one affects the other (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Anyone can suffer from depression. Those who have suffered from depression include Sir Winston Churchill and Florence Nightingale.

Depression is not a weakness. Strong people fall into it. Depressed persons are usually emotionally honest. They are not in delusion. They simply see no way out because they no longer have the energy to pull themselves out.[2]

The most common symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Feeling useless, inadequate, bad
  • A sense of self hatred, constant questioning of thoughts and actions and a constant need for reassurance
  • Feeling vulnerable and being oversensitive to criticism
  • Sense of guilt
  • Loss of energy and the ability to concentrate and be motivated to do even the simplest tasks
  • Harming oneself
  • Sudden loss or gain in weight
  • Sleep disruption or a need to sleep very long hours
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Loss of libido
  • Physical aches and pains

Most people only suffer two or three of these symptoms at any one time. People with severe depression may also experience suicidal feelings, stop eating, or drinking and suffer from delusions or hallucinations. Many people who need treatment for depression suffer further bouts later in life. Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression, but three times as many men commit suicide.[3]

Male Depression is a more serious matter.

In both men and women, common signs and symptoms of depression include feeling down in the dumps, sleeping poorly, and feeling sad, guilty and worthless. Men with depression, however, have bouts of crying less often than do women with depression.

Other symptoms of male depression often include:

  • Anger and frustration
  • Violent behavior
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Taking risks, such as reckless driving and extramarital sex
  • Loss of concentration
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Avoiding pleasurable activities
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in work, hobbies and sex
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Misuse of prescription medication
  • Thoughts of suicide

In addition, men often aren't aware that physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain, can be symptoms of male depression.[4]

Performance orientation

Some people think they must earn others' love and acceptance. This is a performance oriented person. Real love, however, is never earned. Love is freely given. Performance oriented persons are susceptible to depression. Some characteristics:

  • Failure at winning love through performing
  • Over achievement or great failure
  • Isolation and guilt
  • Feels love through being good
  • Pent up anger of resentment because s/he performs for love.

Despondency is not depression. We all have our high and low days. Non-depressed people know that they will feel better tomorrow. The key factor is that they still possess hope. The most telling aspect of depression is despair. They not only have no hope, they know tomorrow will not be better. A depressed person cannot help himself.[5]

Different types of depression

There are many different types of depression, including clinically diagnosed depression, manic depression and post-natal depression. Manic depression is marked by extreme mood swings, between highs when a person experiences excessive energy and optimism and lows when they may feel total despair and lack of energy. Post-natal depression can occur from about two weeks after the birth of a child to two years after and differs from the mood swings suffered by many in the first few days after the child is born. Other forms of depression include Seasonal Affective Disorder which is thought to be associated with the approach of winter and may be linked to lack of sunlight.

Causes of depression

Depression can be caused by a combination of factors. It often runs in families, suggesting a genetic [or spiritual] component, but it may be triggered by stressful events. Major depressive illness is usually linked to some form of chemical imbalance in the brain. It is also thought that people with low self-esteem, a pessimistic outloook on life and difficulty coping with stress are more prone to depression. Life events which may trigger depression include bereavement, chronic illness, relationship problems and financial difficulties.6]

"Black Dog" was Churchill's name for his depression, and as is true with all metaphors, it speaks volumes. The nickname implies both familiarity and an attempt at mastery, because while that dog may sink his fangs into one's person every now and then, he's still, after all, only a dog, and he can be cajoled sometimes and locked up other times.7

RECOGNIZING DEPRESSION

1. A panting for hope of God (42:1-2)

2. Tears, sense of mourning an unexplained loss (42:3, 9; 43:2)

3. Lack of appetite (42:3)

4. Perception of not measuring up to others’ expectations (42:3)

5. Sees good part of life gone, a distant memory (42:4)

6. Downcast, disturbed, disquieted soul (42:5, 6, 11)

7. Emotionally honest when confronted with reality (42:6)

8. Perception: forgotten by everyone, even God (42:9)

9. Physical medical health issues arise (42:10)

10. Feel helpless and rejection (43:1-2)

CURE FOR DEPRESSION

1. The reality of hope (42:5, 11; 43:5). Notice that hope brings praise, the end of depression.

2. Recall God’s work in your life (42:4)

3. Be refreshed in the great outdoors (42:6-7) The spring thaw on Hermon makes the Jordan rush in a mighty waterfall just north of the Sea of Galilee.

4. Receive His presence (42:7). Ever stood under a waterfall?

5. Prayer and Worship in Song (42:8; 43:4). Receive the Father’s love and respond in song and prayer. Notice the pairing of love & song, prayer & life.

6. Word of God (43:5). The light unto our path and the truth guides to His presence.

APPLICATION:

  • Hurt with the one who hurts. Don’t try to cheer them up or get them over it by getting them out and about. Don’t teach, preach, scold, or exhort, or give advice. It only makes it worse, especially with a performance-oriented person who sees it as not performing well enough. [8]
  • Get it off your chest. Encourage your loved one to talk, change the routine. Before depression, catch and prevent it by talking it out in an atmosphere of warm affection.[9]
  • Self-care strategies also may help. These include:
    • Setting realistic goals and prioritizing tasks
    • Spending time with supportive family and friends
    • Engaging in activities you enjoy, such as exercise, movies, ball games or fishing
    • Delaying important decisions, such as changing jobs or getting married or divorced, until your depression symptoms improve[10]
  • See a doctor. Taking medicine is not a sin. Taking medicine is not a lack of faith! Often this medicine simply helps a person get their chemical balance back. Many of us take medicine to keep our cholesterol levels healthy, insulin to keep our sugar level steady, or potassium to keep that level healthy. Why would we not take something for a few months to regain our serotonin levels?

The Mayo Clinic suggests that “if you suspect you have depression, schedule a physical examination with your family doctor or primary health care professional. Conditions such as a viral infection, thyroid disorder and low testosterone levels can produce symptoms similar to male depression. If your doctor rules out such conditions as a cause of your symptoms, the next step may be a depression screening. Treatment for male depression may include antidepressant medications, psychotherapy or both.[11]

See a counselor. Find a Biblical counselor to help you talk it out, pray it through, and advise you practically.
  • Deal with anger. Some counselors see suppressed anger locked into the heart and festering and sickening the spirit as a major cause of depression.[12]
  • Get refreshment in nature. Since Adam and Eve were in a garden, human beings have been refreshed by the outdoors.[13]
  • Long term inner healing only comes in God’s presence. You can go to counselors, see your pastor, your doctor, go camping, but only by spending time in the presence of God, before Him will you experience final healing. It is His presence and ministry, not your faith, which will bring healing.


  • [1] John and Paula Sandford, Healing the Wounded Spirit, (Tulsa: Victory House, 1985), 165.

    [2] Sandford, 168.

    [3] BBC News online, 20 December 2000, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1079434.stm, Accessed 11/24/2006.

    [4] MayoClinic.com, “Male Depression: Don’t ignore the symptoms,” http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/male-depression/MC00041, accessed 11/24/2006.

    [5] Sandford, 166.

    [6]BBC News online, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1079434.stm.

    [7] Sue Chance, M.D., “Churchill’s Black Dog,” http://www.mhsource.com/exclusive/chanceth0196.html, accessed 11/24/2006.

    [8] Sandford, 170-6.

    [9] Sandford, 198-9.

    [10] MayoClinic.com, “Male Depression: Don’t ignore the symptoms.”

    [11] MayoClinic.com, “Male Depression: Don’t ignore the symptoms.”

    [12] Sandford, 198.

    [13] Sandford, 200.