Today, an estimated 7.1% of the U.S. population, or 17.3 million people struggles with major clinical depression. This heavily overlaps with substance abuse and substance use disorder, as millions of people self-medicate and use substances to treat depression. People with depression are more likely to develop a substance use disorder and people with a substance use disorder are more likely to become depressed and anxious.
As Christians, we are tasked, by God, to take care of our bodies and our souls. That means abstaining from heavy substance use, working to maintain our mental and physical health, and devoting time to God as part of that. Staying sober as part of your recovery is your commitment to Him. That becomes more and more difficult as you navigate depression and all the negatives and ups and downs that come with it. Luckily, He has given us resources with which to manage depression. They can and will help you to get through depression without relapsing.
The first step to acknowledging and managing a mental illness is to seek out professional help. This may start with a visit to your GP or to your therapist depending on what you have. It should involve a long and thorough discussion with a mental health practitioner regarding your options, your safety, and your ability to take medication.
Depression is normally treated with either behavioral therapy and counseling, prescription drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or a combination of the two. Your history of substance abuse may impact what you qualify for or should have. For example, some prescription medication is addictive and a history of substance use disorder will put you in a high-risk category for becoming dependent on it. Others cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract and your history of substance abuse might have damaged your gastrointestinal tract already, it might be too dangerous for you to use some SSRIs. Therefore, it’s important to have an open and honest discussion with your doctor or therapist regarding:
If you already have a diagnosis for depression and have already had these conversations with your therapist, it’s easy to move forward into next steps. If therapy hasn’t helped in the past, it may be time to try again, to try a different therapy, or to combine therapies.
The important thing is that you seek out professional medical advice and do not take this blog as medical advice.
Building and rebuilding strong bonds with your friends, family, and community is important for your recovery and your mental health. While you’re never going to go “I’m helping friends, my depression is cured”, consistently contributing to friends, family, and strangers will improve your mental health. This means that going to church, spending time around family and friends, and otherwise investing in your community add positively to your mental and emotional health.
You should also try:
Giving and contributing to your community can be some of the best ways to feel better when you’re feeling down. At the same time, reaching out, involving yourself in your community, and asking for help when you need it are central tenants of both managing depression and being a Christian.
It’s easy to focus on investing outwards and forget about investing inwards. At the same time, God has asked us to care for ourselves, to treat our body well, and to cultivate our own success. That means taking care of yourself in every way possible. This means:
Managing depression can be intensely difficult. Some days, the depression will likely win. However, the key to maintaining recovery is to get good medical advice, take medication if you’re recommended, and to attend therapy. Investing in lifestyle and behavior management to ensure that you actively pursue and invest in things that make you feel good and happy (like helping others, eating well, and exercising) are also crucial. And, if you open and maintain your relationship to God, connect to Him through your community, and invest in your spiritual life, that too will bring more joy back into your life.