Undoubtedly, most people could supply the rest of the words to the title because it’s been repeated so many times. I once read that the woman is the emotional hub of the home. She is the center of the wheel around which her family rotates. So if mama isn’t happy, nobody’s happy. This is more than just a cute or sassy saying; it is a statement full of weight and truth.
So many women are suffering in silence, living in a dark place that they are struggling to break free from. The valley of depression is a lonely, heartbreaking place to be and despite a woman’s best efforts, it is almost impossible for her family to be immune from the effects of it. Depression affects a staggering number of women. As many as 12 million American women suffer from clinical depression each year with one in eight women experiencing clinical depression in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, and more than 50% of women believe that depression is just a normal part of aging, there is no avoiding it.1 Sadly, statistics also show that women in the church are not immune.
There are several different causes and kinds of depression, but we are going to examine the following four: 1) Circumstantial, 2) Hormone Imbalance, 3) Clinical, and 4) Self-inflicted.
Circumstantial – This type of depression is brought about by circumstances in life. A woman that is affected by this kind of depression is one whose mood is generally positive and upbeat when things are going pretty good, but when a domino effect of negative events occurs, she starts to spiral down and can’t seem to pull out of the tailspin. Things such as her husband losing his job, financial strain, serious health issues with a family member, rebellious teenagers, marital problems, etc., all contribute to her shutting down emotionally and struggling to cope.
Hormone imbalance – If you are a woman who manages to have a healthy hormone balance, count yourself blessed! At some point in life, most women struggle with hormone imbalance of one kind or another whether it is severe PMS or difficulty transitioning physically and emotionally into menopause. There are women who have gone most of their life with an overall good emotional health only to be shocked into finding themselves struggling with severe depression, anxiety, and emotional problems in their 40’s and 50’s when menopause hits. I once read an interesting article by a doctor who was commenting on this phenomenon. He lamented the fact that so many of these women had been treated for their depression with prescription medication when the root problem was hormonal, not mental. Several of his female patients had come to him because their depression had not gotten better despite being “treated” by their doctor. He would test their hormone levels to see if there was a moderate to severe imbalance, then slowly wean them off of their prescription “cocktails” as he called them. Then he would proceed to treat them for their real problem, hormonal imbalance, and he had good success in helping them to overcome their depression.
Clinical – This type of depression is one that can be very serious and needs medical attention and treatment. Sometimes it is based on a chemical imbalance in the brain which needs correcting. Warning signs and symptoms to watch for include: Feelings of worthlessness or helplessness, feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism, sleep disorders (insomnia and/or excessive sleeping), loss of interest in anything that brings pleasure, persistent sad, anxious or empty feelings, difficulty with concentration or decision making, fatigue and decreased energy, restlessness, overeating or appetite loss, persistent aches, pains or digestive problems, making comments about being worthless, thoughts of death or “wanting out.”
Self-inflicted – This type is a little harder to define, but there are situations where a woman unwittingly walks into the valley of depression by letting her thought processes get out of control. It can start with things such as comparing herself to another, letting feelings of discontent, envy, ungratefulness, jealousy, covetousness, and bitterness take root in her heart and grow to the point that she is perpetually unhappy, dissatisfied and insecure. She never intended or wanted to enter the darkness of depression, but a ball started rolling in her mind and before she knows it, she wakes up one day and doesn’t even want to get out of bed.
Odds are pretty good that you know one or more women who fall into one of these four categories of depression…or maybe it is you. The valley of depression can be so low and so long that the mountaintops of joy seem too steep to climb and so out of reach. But please do not despair, there is help for the journey, and you can make it. If you or someone you know falls into category #2 or #3, let me encourage you to seek the proper medical treatment. Hormone imbalance is very treatable. There are many helpful resources, even natural resources such as herbs, essential oils, and dietary changes that can have positive impacts. There are also doctors who specialize in this area and can offer a variety of options to help you have a healthy balance and break the cycle of negative emotional and physical symptoms. Clinical depression is also treatable, but it requires the supervision of a doctor. Many treatment options are available from prescription antidepressants and psychotherapy to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) depending on the severity of symptoms. The most important thing is to get immediate help if any suicidal thoughts are present.
What about categories 1 and 4? First of all, either of these can eventually lead to a clinically depressed state which requires medical attention, but if it has not reached that point, there are some principles we can look to in the Bible for help.
If you could describe the prophet Elijah in one word, I’m almost willing to bet that the word “depressed” would not even enter your mind as a description of such a biblical giant. In fact, when we think of Elijah, we tend to think of things like his spectacular exit from this world in a fiery chariot or his impressive showdown on Mt. Carmel against the false prophets of Baal. And yet, this mighty, faithful, courageous man experienced a period of deep depression.
In I Kings 19:4b we read these words, “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Lord, take my life…’” Elijah was done. Finished. Defeated. Beaten down. He had just come off of the literal mountaintop of Mt. Carmel with a great spiritual victory only to be hounded, hunted and threatened with death by the evil Jezebel. Elijah had fled for his life into the wilderness and sat down to take stock of his situation. His conclusion is found in the above scripture. Fast forward a couple thousand years. Have we ever seen or personally experienced any striking parallels? “I’ve worked hard for you, Lord, and tried to be faithful. I teach Bible class, fix food for the sick, make visits, write cards, serve whenever I’m asked, and yet…we’re drowning in debt, my child needs a surgery we can’t afford, I feel lonely in my marriage, my mother’s Alzheimer’s is progressing, one of the sisters at church treats me like dirt, and one of my closest friends has betrayed me. Enough, Lord! I can’t take anymore, just let me die.” The painful circumstances of life seem to overwhelm like a tsunami, and we feel as if we’re drowning. While circumstances cannot always be altered, our approach to them can. God had a solution for Elijah, and I believe some of these same principles can help us today.
In I Kings 19:5-8, God provided two things that Elijah needed immediately: rest and nutrition. One of the keys to healing our emotions is to heal the body. Poor sleep habits, incessant insomnia coupled with a poor diet of junk food, fast food and/or sugar not only drain our body physically but affect us emotionally as well. It is important to try to go to sleep and get up each day at the same times to regulate our internal clock. Establish a bedtime routine and do relaxing things such as taking a bath, reading the Bible, or reading a book that is calming and enjoyable. Try spritzing your bed linens with a relaxing lavender spray or diffuse some calming essential oils in your bedroom. Avoid television or computer screens while in bed. They stimulate the mind before trying to sleep rather than relaxing it. Work on eating healthier each day and hydrating well with water. If necessary, supplement with vitamins and herbs to provide essential fuels and building blocks your body needs to function and to heal. Try to get some sort of exercise which helps improve not only your physical health but aids in mental clarity and improved emotional well-being. Even if it’s playing frisbee with your kids or walking the dog each day, get moving, and get some fresh air and sunshine.
Another thing that God provided for Elijah was encouragement. One of the reasons Elijah felt such despair was the fact that he felt all alone. He didn’t think anyone else was faithful to God, and the very thought that he had to “do it all” made him feel like giving up. In I Kings 19:18, we see that God corrects this misconception of Elijah by telling him that there were 7,000 others like him who had not followed the false god Baal but remained faithful to the one true God. It always helps us to know that we are not alone, whatever it is we are struggling with. When we struggle with depression, one of the most debilitating things about it is the fact that we feel we are all alone in it, that no one else is struggling like we are. But that simply is not true. So many people do struggle with it and have successfully overcome it. It helps tremendously when someone can truthfully say to us, “I know how you feel. I understand. I’ve been there.” Depression tends to make us withdraw into ourselves and be silent when in reality, we need to talk in order to heal. Shakespeare once said, “Give sorrow words, e’er grief whispers over the fraught heart and bids it break.” Talk to a trusted source and seek encouragement from those who understand.
God wasn’t through with “treating” Elijah yet. In I Kings 19:15-16, God gives Elijah work to do. He was rested and fed and had talked with God, now it was time to get up and get to work. When we are depressed, our focus shifts inward. We give up on anything productive or pleasurable and have trouble mustering motivation. As we work through the healing process, we need to reach a point where we find productive work to do that takes our minds off self and shifts our focus to a defined, worthy purpose.
While Elijah was focused inward, he was listening to all of the voices in his head telling him to give up, that life wasn’t fair, that he was worthless, that he was finished. God had to get his attention. So the Lord showed Elijah a strong wind that broke rocks in pieces, an earthquake, and a fire, but God wasn’t in any of them. Instead, Elijah’s full attention was captured when he heard the still, small voice. (v. 12) When he was finally able to focus on the voice of God, it motivated Elijah to stand up and move forward. We too, need to hear the voice of God. We must work to quiet our negative, destructive thoughts in order to focus on the “still, small voice.” Rebuilding our relationship with God is vital to our emotional healing. We draw closer to Him through His Word and our prayer life.
Elijah’s life circumstances didn’t magically change by the end of I Kings 19, but God’s methods had helped bring physical and emotional healing to Elijah. At that point, he felt able to move forward with his life. Aside from the example of Elijah, there are a couple of other biblical principles we can look to that can help us battle depression, specifically when it is category #4, self-inflicted. It is easy to let seeds of doubt and fear take root if we are not careful. When that happens, our thoughts can run away with us and take us far away to a place we don’t want to be and never intended to go. If we find ourselves struggling with things such as being discontent with our lives, ungratefulness for what we have, or bitter envyings, we need to take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. (II Cor. 10:5) As the apostle Paul warns in II Cor. 10:4, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” Satan is skillfully adept at using our thoughts to make us prisoners. We become trapped in a fortress of emotional pain that seems impregnable, and we see no way out. But God is mighty to help us pull down those strongholds, giving us freedom once again. The key to preventing this is to stop those destructive thoughts in their tracks before they become a stronghold. Whatever it is that we are getting fixated upon, fight it with the spiritual weapons God provides in His arsenal. Do we find ourselves discontent? Focus on thankfulness and counting our blessings. Do we struggle with jealousy and envy? Focus on I Corinthians 13 which teaches us how to love others. Do we struggle with grievances or injustice? Focus on forgiveness and how much Jesus forgave. Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ can help us prevent or heal from self-inflicted depression.
No matter how successful a woman may be at masking the symptoms of depression, those closest to her, particularly her family, will see and feel the effects. Young children will not understand why mama stays in her room by herself more and more or sometimes cries for no apparent reason. Older children may struggle with insecurities and loneliness when mama can’t handle their problems, or she shuts herself off from them emotionally. Marriage may be affected by a deteriorated sexual relationship or an added burden on the husband who is trying to keep the family going and struggles to help his wife but doesn’t know how. If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. That is truly a strong motivation to get help for depression, but even more than that, God wants her to be happy again, and He is able to make it happen. One of the many beautiful names of God found in scripture is Jehovah Rapha – the Lord who heals. “There is nothing in the world so damaged that it cannot be repaired by the hand of almighty God.”
Climbing out of the valley of depression to get back on the mountaintop doesn’t happen in just one step or one giant leap. It is a journey of small steps, one day at a time, for however long it takes to arrive. The point is, it can be achieved. The day will finally come when that valley of darkness is far below because the mountaintop has at last been reached. Encourage your friend, your loved one, or yourself to keep moving forward, don’t look back, and don’t give up.
Blessings, ~Heather Pryor
1 Mental Health America
Disclaimer: Heather Pryor is not a medical professional. If you or someone you know is experiencing any symptoms or signs of depression, please seek professional medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment options.