The mother of three straightens out the bouquet of flowers on the table as she sets down plates for dinner, while listening to her daughter practice spelling words and stirring the soup with a smile on her face. As her husband enters the home and reaches over to kiss his wife, he not only smells a lovely dinner, but more importantly, he sees his in wife a radiant joy and exuberant happiness.
Or maybe, it looks more like this:
The dirty dishes are piling up in the sink, as the kids chase each other around the dinner table, the scent of burning soup fills the air, and Mom has collapsed on the couch in fatigue and tears. The tears flow unbidden and rush like a torrent without warning and this mother feels overwhelmed, irritated, hopeless and worthless. She no longer enjoys her weekly dance class or playing her guitar and it has become difficult to get out of bed each morning, never mind trying to get through the day with all of its demands and daily decisions.
If this mother experiences changes in eating and sleeping patterns in addition to the above mentioned symptoms, she may be suffering from clinical depression. Although depression gets plenty of press these days, many women are not fully aware of the causes, the symptoms, the treatments or the hope that can be found.
Depression and Women
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, twice as many women (20 – 25%) are affected by depressive illnesses than men. Though the reasons for this disparity are not evident, several factors may influence this tendency. Genetics combine with external factors to contribute to the potential for depression in an individual. High stress levels, though not proven to consistently create depression, may affect a person’s tendency towards depression. In addition, physicians agree that hormones play a part in women’s mental health (see http://allaboutdepression.com for more).
NIMH states that “Significant loss, a difficult relationship, financial problems, or a major change in life pattern have all been cited as contributors to depressive illness.”Being a mother probably adds the greatest stress into a woman’s life – motherhood encapsulates everything from relationship struggles to constant decision making. Usually, as mothers, we manage the household and all the people in it! We find ourselves in charge of cleanliness, health, maintenance, discipline, finances, and a host of others “stressors.” Even if you personally have never struggled with depression, you certainly know a woman who has experienced this debilitating condition.
A depressed person (and her caring friends) may perceive her behavior as lazy, irritable, or irresponsible, but moral judgments must be put on hold during this time. While the only way out looks like an athletic commercial: “Just Do It;” unfortunately, the training methods for escaping this jail are much more complicated than that. If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from depression, consult with a professional to confirm this diagnosis and to determine a course of treatment which may include therapy and/or medications. A person is considered depressed if she exhibits 5 of the following symptoms for at least two weeks: depressed mood, loss of interest in previous pleasures, change in sleep patters, significant change in weight, lowered energy, increased feelings of worthlessness, thoughts of death or suicide, or lack of concentration.
Cognitive behavioral therapy attempts to retrain the brain to think differently and in turn to retrain a person’s behaviors.
Paul urges us in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”The depressed person needs help seeing things from a different perspective, since in her mind everything is negative. This process of changing one’s thinking takes time: change doesn’t occur overnight.
A behavioral trait called “learned helplessness” often keeps the depressed woman trapped in this prison of darkness, because she feels she has no control or power to change things. As Christians, we believe that we all come to God helpless and that He alone controls the universe, but He also gives us strength to move forward in steps of faith changing our situation and our outlook.
The God of Hope
Ultimately, the rays of hope can penetrate the darkness of depression when a woman commits to treatment and to the One who comforts and cares for us all. In befriending a depressed woman, I would be careful not to quote formulaic verses or force change upon my friend. Instead, the path to hope comes through patience, through simply being there for a friend, through daily encouragement and through powerful loving prayers. Simple acts of friendship such as frequent calls or invitations to do something enjoyable together can give a depressed woman hope that she is not alone.
1 - Depression: What Every Woman Should Know has been revised by Margaret Strock
2 – http://allaboutdepression.com
3 - The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- Fourth Edition
4 – The local Christian therapist (Darren Cox, MA LPC – Thankfully for me, he lives with me!)