Overcoming Depression: Dr. Nicole Fitzpatrick

We have a special “guest blog” from a mental health professional who has a heart for God and a heart for people. 

JKBcircle Hyde Park Baptist Church is blessed to have an incredibly gifted team of professional Christian Counselors at the Hyde Park Counseling Center. The capable Director of the Counseling ministry is Dr. Nicole Fitzpatrick. Since I preached recently on Elijah’s depression, I asked Dr. Fitzpatrick to write this article to help those  who struggle with mental health concerns.

Here is her helpful guest blog! (-JKB)

 

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DEPRESSION-
DEALING WITH THE FACTS, THE FEELS, AND YOUR FAITH

Dr. Nicole Fitzpatrick

Having the privilege of walking with people through mental health challenges over the course of the last 20 years, it is evident that one of the hardest and most elusive issues that people face is depression. Depression is often misunderstood, and left undiagnosed and untreated has the potential to lead to fatal outcomes. You or your loved one(s) don’t have to feel this way. There is hope and there is help.

The Facts

• Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year. (Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27)
• While major depressive disorder can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32. (U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates by Demographic Characteristics, 2005)
• Major depressive disorder is more prevalent in women than in men according to the American Psychological Association.
• As many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression. (Center for Mental Health Services, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 1996)
• People with depression are four times as likely to develop a heart attack than those without a history of the illness. After a heart attack, they are at a significantly increased risk of death or second heart attack. (National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, 1998)
• According to the NIMH, the prevalence of adults with a major depressive episode was highest among individuals aged 18-25 (10.9%).

The Feels

Bottom line, depression is real, it hurts, it feels like no one gets it, no one is around, no one hurts as much as you, at times you can even question where is God. You may stop caring, stop sharing, turn inward to your thoughts and feelings rather than upward to God or share with others the depths of your pain. It is often a silent struggle that feels so dark and desperate. Depression like other mental illness isn’t always something that others can see, it is something that implicates your brain chemistry and can impact your physical health, emotional well-being, and your spiritual life as well. Your thoughts and feelings can become so overwhelming that you can’t even get out of bed in the morning or go through your day as you once did. Everything feels heavy, hard and overwhelming. This is depression.

How do I know if I am depressed?

SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION *

Critical for a diagnosis of depression is a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by feelings ofsadness, emptiness, and hopeless or observation made by others (e.g., you appear tearful). (Note: In children and adolescents, often perceived as an irritable mood.)
2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by either subjective account or observation.)
3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), and decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day. (Note: In children, consider failure to make expected weight gain.)
4. Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
5. Feeling slower or more keyed up in your body nearly every day (observable by others, not merely feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others).
9. Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

These symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. It may be noted that something is “off” or “different” or I am not “feeling like myself” these are all important concerns to take note of. and work to understand and collect more information around the symptoms of the underlying problem.

I think I am experiencing a depression? What now? What next?

First, it is crucial to acknowledge that you may be suffering with depression. Awareness of the problem is key to getting help and later walking in renewal. Research has shown that talking about your problems is integral to moving into freedom over your feelings. Having sad or difficult times is normal partof our human experience, it is what we do with those feelings that makes all the difference. Acknowledging your feelings and talking about them with a professional can lead to transformation in your life. At times, medication therapy may also be a tool to help boost neurotransmitter functioning so your brain gets back to optimal functioning in a balanced state. Diet and exercise are other important keys to fighting depression. Remembering your own self-care and prioritizing it is integral to your wellness plan. Interestingly, waiting to feel better or wondering when the depression is “going to go away” can create a lot of secondary anxiety and fear. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. It is important to extend grace to yourself and surrender your timeline for feeling better so that you can allow your mind and body to heal. The key to living well with depression is to acknowledge it and then get the help you need. Bottom line, if you need help get help and if you are wondering if you need help, get help too. You don’t have to face depression or any other mental health struggle alone.

Hope for the believer

We can see biblical examples of those that struggled with situational depression as well as what would now be diagnosed as clinical depression as well. It is normal to ask the Lord why and how long? Many in Scripture did just that and we can learn from the Word for ways to ask and receive, seek and find, knock and the door will be opened. The important thing is that we do not falter from knowing God’s character and that He is with us, He will never leave for forsake us, and He has a plan. Often times, our feelings can cloud our perception of God and the timeline seems longer than we would like or ever want to endure when we are going through emotional pain. The key to weathering the emotional storms that come into our lives is to remember who we are in Christ. Renewing your mind through the Word of God is instrumental to making and maintaining holy and healthy changes in your thought life. It will take time but the restoration of the soul will happen. When you are coming out of a depression, gradual, slow change is typical. This will lead to lasting change that brings us out of the darkness and into the light. Being encouraged by other believers is another way to walk through the difficult time, bearing one another’s burdens and encouraging each other during the hard times.

Remember you are already victorious in the Spirit over depression and any other emotional battle you may face, claim this by faith first and the feelings will begin to follow. Reciting affirming one who you are in Christ, claiming the victory you have in Him and remembering God’s promises for you as a believer as well as God’s faithfulness throughout the generations is integral to walk by faith through this or any other difficult time. I often tell my clients we must believe this by faith first, feelings follow. Verses such as in my weakness, He is strong, and knowing that faith is believing not in that which is seen but the unseen are particularly salient and important truths to remember even when it hurts. The Helper and the Healer allow us to trust God even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death to experience God’s promises in a way that we could never have experienced had we not gone through this dark time. Knowing that there is a purpose for suffering and a plan and that you are more than a conqueror in Christ especially when it hurts is the key to experiencing victory over depression and any other battle for the believer.

Follow Dr. Nicole on Instagram @drnicolefitzpatrick

* Diagnostic criteria taken from the DSM-5 Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (2013)

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