This post is written by my dear friend, Dr. Michelle Bengtson. She shares some excellent insight on shame from a medical and spiritual aspect. I know it will be a blessing to you!
What is it? Where did it come from? And what do I do about it?
Those are the three most commonly asked questions that I address as a clinical neuropsychologist in my private practice. I evaluate and treat patients who struggle with medical and mental health issues including ADHD, Autism, Learning Disabilities, Depression, Anxiety, Post-Concussion Syndrome, Stroke, Dementia, and so much in between.
When we’re hurting, when we’re struggling, we just want to know what it is and how do we make the pain go away. But somehow, a stigma has become attached to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, that is not shared with other medical disorders such as diabetes or high blood pressure. I say “other medical disorders,” because depression and anxiety are also medical disorders, they are just related to the mind rather than another part of the body. Yet so often, they get treated as separate and distinct. Worse yet, they get treated as if they are conditions that are somehow under the control of our will, and therefore we should just be able to “snap out of it.” Clearly, when someone has that attitude toward another who is walking in the valley of depression, it is often because they do not understand and cannot relate.
After diagnosing a patient with a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety, the next most common question I hear is “where did it come from?” Somehow, we erroneously believe that if we know it’s origin, we’ll experience some kind of relief. I have yet to see that happen…whether we are talking about cancer or depression.
Depression can stem from chemical imbalances in the brain: different symptoms of depression are experienced depending on the varying levels of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, in our brain. Research also suggests that approximately 40-percent of individuals with depression suffer as a result of a genetic link. Physiology and medical disorders such as thyroid disease, diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, and stroke may contribute to symptoms of depression. Environmental factors such as major life changes, both positive and negative stress, and even being raised around family members with mental health conditions can contribute to depression.
There are also spiritual contributors to depression. Scripture tells us that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). When we believe lies about ourselves rather than standing on the truth God declares, we can succumb to depression because we have an enemy who seeks to steal our joy, kill our peace, and destroy our identity.
In my experience working with many patients who have suffered from depression, multiple contributors have been at play at the same time.
While it can be helpful to know the origin of a disease, I have found that rather than focusing so much attention on “Why?”, a more helpful question is, “What can be done to treat it?” or “How do I manage it?”
There are many treatment options available to help someone suffering in the valley of depression find their way out to the other side. Perhaps two of the most common treatment recommendations for an individual with depression are therapy/counseling and medication. Both can be incredibly helpful, especially when done in combination with the other. It’s also important to work with your body and mind, and take care of it with good sleep habits, balanced diet, and regular physical exercise, all three of which have a direct impact on our physical, emotional and cognitive functioning. I would be remiss if I didn’t also suggest the importance of caring for our spiritual well-being also through prayer, time in God’s presence and renewing our thoughts daily, because our thoughts have a direct impact on our emotions and physical well-being.
Many are most concerned about the suggestion of medication to treat their depression. I believe this is in large part due to the stigma attached to mental health issues, and the belief perpetuated by many who don’t understand and think that one should able to get better by thinking positive thoughts or praying more.
I am a firm believer in the power of prayer, and I believe in a God who is still in the healing business today. Some have received an instantaneous healing and been delivered from depression as well as a wide variety of other medical conditions. If God chooses to heal instantaneously, praise Him!
In my experience, however, while we should pray, I’ve also seen where God heals through other means, such as medicine and therapy. While God is in the process of healing, He often encourages us to do what we know to do. Take King Hezekiah as an example:
Hezekiah, King of Judah, became deathly ill, and was predicted not to live. Hezekiah prayed and wept before the Lord to save him. The Lord then sent Isaiah to carry a message to Hezekiah: “…This is what the Lord, the God of your father David says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city” (Isaiah 38:5-6).
Even while Hezekiah was waiting for his healing, believing in the promise the Lord delivered to him through Isaiah, he did what he knew to do: Even after Isaiah had delivered the promise to Hezekiah that he would live, Isaiah then said, “‘Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover’” (Isaiah 38:22).
Sometimes, even while we pray and wait on God to heal, we do what we know to do: medication, counseling, sleep, diet, and exercise. There is no shame in using medicine to treat depression, any more than there is shame in taking medication for allergies, epilepsy or high blood pressure. All are medical conditions, for which medication can alleviate symptoms. Continue to pray and ask God to heal, just as Hezekiah did, then do whatever else you know to do as you wait on Him to bring about healing.
It is not God’s will that we would be ill: “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 1:2). Jesus asked the lame man if he wanted to get well because He knew that getting well would often take work.
What are you willing to do to get well today?
Author, speaker and board certified clinical neuropsychologist, Dr. Michelle Bengtson is also a wife, mother and friend. She knows pain and despair firsthand and combines her professional expertise and personal experience with her faith to address issues surrounding medical and mental disorders, both for those who suffer and for those who care for them. She offers hope as a key to unlock joy and relief—even in the middle of the storm. You may want to check out her new book, Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression.