Monday, December 2, 2013

Christianity and depression

Ashley Roberts is a junior Psychology and Theology major at Trinity Christian College.  She is currently a Resident Assistant for upperclassman in Alumni Hall.  She has just begun to look at graduate schools; she hopes to study Psychology at graduate level to eventually become a Licensed Clinical Professionals Counselor.  Ashley has a huge heart for service and hopes to love and serve God’s people for the rest of her life.    

            In the Heart Cry Biblical Model of Depression (HCM), David P. Armentrout (2004) attempts to persuade researchers that depression is a normal, God created response.  According to Armentrout, depression is a response that is spiritual function, as well as biological and psychological.  He assumes that this response was originally intended by God to propel corrective action in a way that furthers wisdom, sensitivity, resilience, and hope.  However, as with all things in a fallen world, the depressive response has been distorted and thus has devastating effects.  Armentrout (2004) introduces this model with empirical data comparing those suffering with depression who believe in God and those who do not.  In general, studies have found that religious involvement is positively correlated with lower levels of depression and suicide.  However, another study has shown that depression levels are higher in religious youth that have lost a sibling than those who are not religious.  In the same study, approximately twenty-four months after the loss, the participants were re-interviewed.  Researchers found that those same religious youth had significantly lower levels of depression, while nonreligious youth were still significantly more depressed (Armentrout, 2004).  Armentrout thus concludes with the HCM, “that a Christ softened heart may make an individual more susceptible to depressed feelings, the course of recovery should be faster and less likely to multiply into destructive depression” (p 41). 
            Armentrout highlights that many symptoms of depression align with symptoms of spiritual distress.  He centralizes HCM around 70 Hebrew words found in Scripture and the many references that describe a spiritual loss.  This spiritual loss can be produced by physical or cognitive events that decrease one’s awareness or God or an event that creates perceived separation from God such as enmeshment in sin.  Armentrout also states an individual with a Christ softened heart may experience feelings of depression when mourning with others.  In both schools of thought, the depressed response promotes the loving of God and neighbor if delivered from such feelings.  Normal feelings of depression can thus be seen as motivational in some circumstances.  However, depressed feelings are maladaptive when they become persistent and recurrent.  Armentrout recognizes here that there are some biological preconditions that might make depression reoccur, especially if underlying neurochemical disturbances are occurring during the depression.  Analyses show, once an individual is depressed he or she is vulnerable to become depressed again.Depression is spiraling in nature.  However, Armentrout does not want to simply credit depression to biology.  He cites studies that indicate that pharmacology and cognitive therapy may yield the same results in decreasing symptomology.  He thus concluded that when depression proceeds as God designed it, it will be resolved, self limiting, and usually have some form of enlightenment.  However, when it does not follow design, whether due to chosen habits or predisposed unconscious cognitions, depression will be processed on a destructive and self-repeating path (Armentrout, 2004).
            As I consider my development in understanding depression, this article could prove to be very formational.  Depression is so multifaceted and complex that it is hard to explain.  Even harder to explain is that an individual seems to truly feel the absence of God during such times.  Conceptually, this is a lot easier to understand if the Lord uses depression as a normal and adaptive response.  This solidifies the fact that Lord works in mysterious ways, and it all brings Him glory. 
            For further research, I would be interested in two main questions.  How should a clinician engage someone who does not love the one true God?  If depression is a spiritual issue at its core, then a clinician’s goal would be ultimately to share the gospel with their non-Christian clients.  What would that actually look like?  How would Armentrout proceed?  I would also like him to continue to flesh out the biological context of depression.  Some individuals do seem to be clearly predisposed to depression.  In that case, is it more of a biological issue than a spiritual one?       
       As one considers depression and Christianity, the tensions are easily recognizable.  How often has a clinically depressed person been told they are not having enough faith in the Lord, or that he or she just needs to “pray it out”? For whatever reason within the church, depression is often associated with faithlessness.  In the HCM, Armentrout combats this.  A major strength of this model is that he reframes how depression should be viewed.  If depression is a response designed by God it allows for more understanding and grace on behalf of the church.  I would hope that it takes the cultural shame found within the church out of depression.  Another strength I see in his article is that Armentrout does not use Scripture to supplement his findings, but instead uses Scripture as the foundation of his model.  As a Christian psychologist, integration is a long life-challenge; Armentrout successfully exemplifies integration.  This is something I hope to strive for as I continue in the world of psychology. 

Armentrout, D.P. (2004). The normal and pathological genesis of depression: The “Heart Cry” biblical model of depression revisited. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 23(1) 40-50.