(Excerpt from full article entitled, “Be Sure of Your Healing”, as seen in the September issue of Faith Filled Family Magazine, page 10, https://indd.adobe.com/view/e1112bc6-09e6-4f19-abb7-46fc27b3db84)
As a mental health nurse, I see the devastating effects that depression has on the person and their family. For those who haven’t experienced it themselves nor known anyone diagnosed, it is often misunderstood, sometimes even ridiculed and written off as ‘all in the mind’. Sadly, this misunderstanding can even come from those closest to the person, with hurtful and unhelpful comments along the way.
With depression, the person may feel hopeless and helpless, fearing they may never escape the darkness; they may feel like a burden to their family and friends; they feel out of control and overwhelmed with life; the energy is drained from their bodies; quality sleep eludes them; their body may be racked with pain; eating becomes either a mood-enhancer causing over-indulgence, or a chore; the thoughts run wild, like a recording playing over and over and over in their mind; negative self-evaluations pervade their mindset leading to thoughts of being unworthy of love, of being pathetic and unable to cope with life.
Most people believe that medications are the main form of treatment. Research tells us, though, that a combination of treatments has been found to be the quickest and most effective for sustaining remission from depression.(1) Of course, medications play an important role, but most don’t find them exclusively effective. (2)
In order to work out a combination of treatments, it is worth a closer look at the ‘biopsychosocial’ model. This model can be understood easily when broken down into three easier parts: biological, psychological and social. Current mental health science says that a majority of emotional problems stem from these three interrelated areas, and are therefore effective to use as a basis for combination treatment.(3)
Your physical body is a precious gift and looking after it physically is a way to honor God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
When we consider biological treatments, we need to include medications, exercise, nutrition and sleep, as well as treating other medical conditions that are contributing to depression, for example, pain management.
We all know that these things help us to feel better. These improvements don’t just occur for vague, unidentifiable reasons. They happen due to biochemical changes that take place and tangibly improve your mood.(4)
Medications help change your biochemistry and play a role in recovery. While they aren’t the sole answer, they can help lift your symptoms enough that you are able to work on the other things that are required for recovery and maintenance. They can lift you out of that dark pit, so that you can at least start moving forward.
In recent years, there has been much research and information shared in regard to nutrition and mental health. You may have noticed more news reports, documentaries and articles on the topic. Even on Facebook you may have seen this topic pop up in your newsfeed.
It has been said for many years that ‘You are what you eat’. More than ever this is being proven, with the research pointing to your gut health as a key factor.
Simply put, research has found that there is a link between our brains (mental processes and emotions) and our gut (intestinal functions).(5) In other words, they ‘talk’ to each other. Think about a time when you were feeling excited. Did you get butterflies in your stomach? Or when you were anxious, did you feel nauseas or experience diarrhea or reflux? The emotion is happening in the emotional centre of your brain (amygdala), yet those responses are in your gut.
It stands to reason then, that if your gut is healthy, it contributes to better mental health.(6) But how do you improve your gut health?
Research tells us that improving gut health is two-fold – increasing gut friendly (anti-inflammatory) foods in your diet and limiting or removing foods that aren’t gut friendly (inflammatory).(7)
There is a well-known verse from Philippians 4:8 that gives a great pattern for us to follow with our thoughts, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (NLT). Of course, this is much easier said than done, especially when depression overwhelms.
However, there are things that you can do to help lift your mood and therefore help you model this kind of thinking.
Psychological treatments include formal therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), gratitude journals, music, building self-esteem, kindness, prayer, meditation, controlled breathing, and relaxation (to name a few).
One of the key things as Christians is our connection with God through prayer. There have been studies done on how prayer affects our wellbeing, both physically and mentally. One study found that practices such as prayer actually thickens the brain cortex which is thought to be a protective factor for depression.(8)
The Bible has many verses that talk about our relationships with others. It speaks of who to connect with and how we should manage those relationships. All areas of our life are covered, from marriage and families, to friendships and business partners, to enemies and strangers. Obviously, we are designed for connection!
When someone suffers from depression though, connections can fall by the wayside. The person may not have the energy to connect; they may not feel worthy to connect; they lack the motivation to connect. Sometimes bridges have been burnt, so to speak, and some connections have been irreparably severed. But this social isolation from family, friends and support networks only compounds the problems with depression.
In the biopsychosocial model, the ‘social’ not only relates to relationships but also to environmental circumstances.(3) Avenues for treatment of both of these include social connections/supports (eg family, friends, clubs, church, professionals-doctors etc) and working on issues such as unemployment, housing, transport – many things contribute to one’s social situation and need to be considered to assist recovery.
A key factor to consider for recovering from depression is social supports. There are many ways this can be done, but as Christians, we have a great support network provided to us through the church. In Hebrews 10:25 it says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” While we have viewed these three areas individually, it is important to keep in mind that there is a lot of overlap. When you work on one area, the other areas tend to improve also. Just like medications alter your biochemistry, so too do these other treatments. By using a combination of treatments, you can improve your mental health quicker and with longer lasting effect.
You can check out Shauna’s website and book at https://www.shaunagallagherauthor.com/
- Medscape: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/286759-treatment
- PubMed Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0087089/
- Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/think-well/201605/why-the-best-therapy-is-biopsychosocial-process
- Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise#1
- Psych Scene: https://psychscenehub.com/psychinsights/the-simplified-guide-to-the-gut-brain-axis/
- Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
- Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
- Mental Health Social Support: http://www.mhss.net.au/research-and-statistics