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Prof to seniors: Depression isn’t sin or weakness in faith

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)– If life can be compared to a journey, clinical depression can be considered a detour along the way, a professor and counselor told senior adults attending a national conference, Oct. 23-27 at Ridgecrest, A LifeWay Conference Center in North Carolina.

“Twenty million Americans face depression, and some of those are in our churches,” John Howell, professor emeritus at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., said during a seminar in which he taught the discipleship course, “Strength for the Journey: a Biblical Perspective on Discouragement and Depression.”

LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention produced the nine-week course written by James Porowski, professor of pastoral care and counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., and Paul Carlisle, professor of pastoral care and counseling at Midwestern Seminary.

“Depression is not a sin or a weakness in faith as some Christians fear,” Howell told seniors attending the Chautauqua, sponsored by LifeWay. “But you can’t live with it ongoing without getting relief from it.”

Howell, who is also a Christian counselor, said he first advises people who come to him with symptoms of depression to receive a thorough physical exam from their primary care physicians.

“The challenge of coping with depression takes more than making up your minds to feel better. And the challenge needs to start with your physician,” he said.

If medication is recommended, Howell said, it alone cannot cure depression.

“It gives you help in dealing with depression and relief from the physiological symptoms, but you will have to deal with some of the symptoms through therapeutic measures,” he said.

Howell listed several “circumstantial hindrances” that get in the way of emotional and spiritual health and that can potentially lead to discouragement or depression:

— Unresolved or wrong anger. “Anger can become a destructive in our lives. And some unresolved anger lingers because of our unwillingness to forgive those who have hurt us.”

— Losses. “We deal with losses even as children, say, when we lose a pet. As we come into our senior years, losses could mean the death of a spouse.”

— Family issues. “Brokenness in family, such as divorce or death of a child, can break down relationships that can lead to discouragement or depression.”

— Stress. “Fifty percent of many types of depression come out of stress.” Howell said good stress (a hectic vacation schedule) or bad stress (work overload) can both lead to depression. “Christians have to learn to say ‘no’ to some things even though it might be difficult. It can cost us emotionally and physically to do too much.”

— Harmful or poor choices. “We all look back and say, ‘I wish I had or had not done that. Self-forgiveness is essential to overcome the guilt, shame or despair caused by our own behavior.”

Discouragement is different from depression, Howell said, in that it is a more temporary melancholy. It can, however, lead to depression, he said. Clinical depression is a state of prolonged sadness and despair.

To be considered depressed, a person would experience five or more of the following symptoms almost every day for a period of two weeks, according to the Strength for the Journey workbook:

— Depressed mood most of each day.

— Loss of pleasure in formerly enjoyable activities.

— Significant changes in weight or appetite.

— Can’t fall asleep at night or waking up repeatedly throughout the night. May sleep too much.

— Fatigue or loss of energy.

— Feelings of hopelessness.

— Inability to concentrate or make decisions. Making simple daily decisions is a chore.

— Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

While depression can seem daunting, Howell said a four-stage biblical model of change and growth is offered in the Strength for the Journey workbook.

Stage one is awareness, “seeing God’s new direction for our lives,” Howell said. Stop denying there is a problem and admit it can’t be handled alone.

The second stage is understanding, “recognizing and accepting God’s guidance for us.”

Stage three is action. Determine specific actions that can be taken to deal with discouragement or depression, such as reducing stress, going to a therapist, exercising more or eating right, he said.

Change is the fourth and final stage. Live more of life with the new behaviors than with the old, he urged.

The Strength for the Journey workbook may be purchased through LifeWay Church Resources Customer Service, 1-800-458-2772, through a LifeWay Christian Store or the online store, www.lifewaystores.com.

About 700 senior adults attended the Chautauqua conference, Oct. 23-27, sponsored by LifeWay’s adult discipleship department.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: STRENGTH.

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