(Photo: Courtesy of Christian Counseling & Education Foundation)
Edward Welch, a licensed neuropsychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation in Philadelphia, Pa., provides counseling that is based on Scripture to help patients who are suffering from depression.
For people who've never suffered from depression, Welch describes it as being a chronic physical pain and an eternal presence that seems as though it's never going to change.
Welch told The Christian Post that the experience of depression is the absence of all things that are good. "Think of all of the blessings from the Lord: weather, rain, food and fellowship," he said. "The absence of anything good would be hell; and people use metaphors for hell to describe depression."
Although the word depression isn't found in Scripture, "the word suffering is. Depression is suffering," said Welch, whose book, Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness, provides information for those who seek to understand depression from a Christian perspective.
Understanding the correlation between depression and suffering gives people access to Scripture that effectively works in their lives when they read, hear and speak the Lord's word. A search for the word suffering in the Bible "keys us into all kinds of Scripture," said Welch, who tells Christians to remember God's promise to believers: "God said, 'I'll never leave you;' and 'Your father is pleased to give you the keys to the Kingdom.'"
Welch encourages the people he counsels to speak to God, and "if the pain is too strong, and there are no words, to read from the book of Psalms."
He suggests that they "speak the hard things from our hearts to the Lord." And when people are unable to do so on their own, Welch said he speaks words to the Lord on their behalf.
When people listen to those who share their struggles with depression, they will eventually hear that anxieties come up. "Life is churned up by ever-present anxieties," said Welch, who has been a counselor for more than 30 years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear and addictions.
People who live with a loved one that has depression should "seek to jettison anything that can intensify depression: guilt, shame, regrets, works righteousness, old broken relationships, mythologies about people, God, ourselves, and who we are," he said. People who struggle with depression often have a "pervasive sense of guilt and shame."
"Depression demands another way to live (Hebrews 11:1)," the neuropsychologist continued. "Even though I've been a believer for decades, I still live by how I feel. Depressed people encounter feelings and say, 'why bother, there's nothing good.'" These feelings "demand a radical call to live by faith, rather than by sight. When a depressed person lives by sight, everything is dark."
Because people who struggle with depression feel a pronounced absence of all good things, it can be difficult to communicate with them and provide words of encouragement.
"Seek to love wisely," advised Welch, who said that it's important for families to "enlarge the circle of people" who can support the person who's suffering from depression, by including "other people who pray, love and have wisdom." He emphasized that this includes counselors and psychiatrists, who are partners with families.
Welch added that it's important to "greet, pray, touch and communicate," with loved ones who are living with depression; and to support them and ask questions, without overreacting in anger or hovering, which "tends to make things worse, rather than better."
The depressed person might not know what they want, "but they do know what they don't want," said Welch, who emphasized that family members shouldn't be afraid to ask questions for fear of provoking, as long as they are asked in a loving manner. "Try to maintain normal and good relationships ... talk about things."
Key signs to watch out for with depression is to see if the loved one is "withdrawing from the things they enjoy: people, hobbies and music, for example," he said. "When families see withdrawal, or a movement toward darkness, such as dark movies, dark music, dark people … their loved one might not be falling into darkness, but they are giving words to the things inside them."
"Intense depression waxes and wanes," Welch said. "The physical body can't take extremes of depression for very long." He added that when the depression lifts, "it's as if they see color."
He pointed out that "Winston Churchill suffered from depression and often believed that he could never do anything right, when he was doing a lot of things right." Other people he named as having suffered from depression include: Pablo Picasso, Abraham Lincoln, preacher Charles Spurgeon, missionary David Brainard, and Bible translator J. B. Phillips.
Speaking about the recent suicide of Matthew Warren, who suffered from depression and mental illness, Welch said that his parents, Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, did everything right. He added that Matthew would've had access to the most skilled people in the body of Christ, and he believes that they had enlarged their circle to help their son.
According to Welch, suicide is unpredictable, and many people observe that there seems to be an improvement in the person, and they seem to be doing better, before they commit suicide. However, he noted that seeing a loved one get better "doesn't mean it's a harbinger of suicide."
"The reality is that suicide is impossible to predict," he said.
Thoughtful people tell themselves that there were warning signs beforehand that they should've seen. Welch described it as being like a football coach who's looking back at the tape from a game. "Part of the tragedy about suicide is that by looking back, they see signs, but in reality, they wouldn't have seen it."
To learn more about Welch and the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, visit ccef.org