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. So as a Christian in recovery, staying clean and sober is part of 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.
Seek Out Professional Help
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:
Your current mental health and how you feel now
Your physical health
Your history of substance abuse including any treatment you’ve taken to overcome it
Your history of therapy and treatment
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:
Attending Support Groups – Whether you move into a support group for substance use recovery or for depression management, getting support and help from your peers can be immensely helpful. Popular groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are spiritual in nature, allowing you to build your bond with God, with your peers, and with yourself as you grow and learn to manage cravings and problems that come with sobriety and depression. AA also allows you to give back, eventually helping others by sponsoring and guiding them through their own journeys.
Volunteering – Taking time to volunteer can be immensely rewarding for your mental health, for your recovery, and for your spiritual health. Volunteering can mean many things. You might spend a few hours a week helping out at the local shelter. You might volunteer with a soup kitchen for your church. On the other hand you could spend time knitting blankets or building tiny houses. Give your times in ways that suit your capabilities, mental capacity, and your safety. E.g., you wouldn’t want to volunteer around addicts while in early recovery. Volunteering is proven to improve mental and emotional health both in depression and in recovery. That’s important for you and allows you to give back to your community and to God while you work on yourself.
Church – Your church should be a haven for you and for your family. It should be a place where you can go to talk to people. And you should be able to talk about your mental health, seek support, and hopefully get help. If you give to your community, chances are, they will be there to give back to you when you need that support. Connecting to God, communicating with the people you care about, and setting aside time to simply talk to Him is important for your mental health.
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 tenets of both managing depression and being a Christian.
Take Care of Yourself
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:
Eating well – Proper nutrition for your mental health will not only help you feel better in the short-term, but it will also help with addiction recovery and with depression long-term. A balanced diet improves the mood long-term, boosts your brain’s ability to regulate serotonin and dopamine production (which contribute to depression) and help to reduce cravings by ensuring you’re happier and have more energy to begin with.
Regular exercise – Taking care of your body with simple, gentle, and long-term exercise is key to physical health. Try for at least 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise per day. Most of us can aim for walking, cycling, or swimming. Exercise helps you to feel better, boosts serotonin production, and boosts the mood. It also improves energy levels, so you feel better and sleep better. Exercise outdoors in nature is especially beneficial for your mental health.
Avoid Substances – Caffeine, large amounts of sugar, and alcohol are all bad for you. In small quantities, all of these can be alright, but most of us abuse them to a significant amount. Watch your intake because they do affect your mental and physical health.
Sleep – Getting enough sleep is crucial to your mental health. Normally, that means building a routine in which you can wake up and go to sleep at about the same time every day. You might also want to work in meditation or another calming ritual, such as prayer, before bed to ensure you can get to sleep on time.
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.