Most people in society find it easy to accept the reality of physical illness but seem to struggle to accept the reality of sicknesses of the soul.
The average Christian knows from basic biblical psychology that the human personality is in 3 parts: spirit, soul and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The soul is further broken down into mind, emotion and will. Physical diseases like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure are diseases of the body since they affect primarily the body. On the other hand, depression, anxiety and such like, which are classified as ‘mental illnesses’ can be described as diseases of the soul. It is interesting that when we begin to take a closer look at the nature of depression we see it’s manifestation through all the facets of the human soul as described above.
Depression is not the occasional blues that we all go through from time to time. It is typically marked by three core symptoms: a lowered mood, a persistent sadness that refuses to go away, a diminished capacity for enjoyment or interest in usual activities as well as lack of energy/tiredness or fatigue. These must be present for at least two weeks and severe enough as to affect a person’s ability to function in daily life.
When a person becomes depressed all aspects of the human soul are affected. Thus in depression, the mind, the emotions and the will of man are all affected. Take for example the effects of depression on the mind. When a person is depressed their thought pattern is affected. A depressed person engages in a lot of negative self-talk (for example, ‘you are not good enough’ ‘you will never make it’), frequent self-criticism, self-blame, worry, pessimism, negativism, impaired memory and concentration, a tendency to believe that others see them in a negative light, thoughts of death and suicide.
In the realm of emotions, depression is manifested as sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, irritability, mood swings, lack of emotional responsiveness, helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness and tearfulness.
The will is affected as well. Thus the person who is depressed lacks motivation to do things. His or her will is marked by indecisiveness and confusion, resignation and despair to events, assuming a posture of powerlessness and helplessness.
Why is it important to recognise depression as a disease of the soul primarily? This is because as a Christian it helps us have a right perspective of the problem in order to take the appropriate action to deal with it.
In Psalm 103 verse 1 & 2, David offers us a key to approach the misery of the soul that is experienced from time to time. He writes:
“Bless the Lord O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:”
We find David’s spirit telling his soul what to do. He summons his soul to remember the benefits of God and then goes on in verses 3-5 to list the benefits. A Christian writer once wrote that the reason why many Christians do not enjoy these benefits is because they do not bring them to remembrance.
I find this to be so true. Failing to remember and appreciate the benefits of God, leads one into a state of discontentment, dissatisfaction, complaining, self-centredness and misery.
We find that people of faith in the bible are people who were conscious of the goodness of God. Take for example David who knew what God had done for him in the past. When faced with the then challenges of his present time, one of his strategies for confronting his fears was to recall the goodness of God to him in the past. How many of us take time to recall the goodness of God to us from the past? It is great ‘medicine’ to the soul. Remembering the goodness of God revives and brings life, strength and faith to a downhearted soul in the present and clears one’s vision for the future.
Indeed the chief complaint that God had against the people of Israel throughout their generations as I understand it was that they failed to remember His goodness. Therefore we find that in Deuteronomy 6 God commands the fathers to make a conscious effort to instruct their families in the ways of God and His past dealings lest they forget.
If we are going to be a people that take control over the condition of our soul, we must learn to tell it what to do and not leave the mind, emotions and will to their own devices.
May God help us!