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» Definition » Understanding » Causes » Diagnosis » Response in the Mission » Care for Yourself » Keeping Yourself Well » Care for Others » Personal Experience 

Depression is a very serious problem that affects many people all around the world. It is said that one out of every five people in the UK will have been treated for depression at least once in their lives.


The Wikipedia defines Depression as "characterized by a severely depressed mood that persists for at least two weeks." (Clinical Depression)

Understanding Depression

Reading the following article will certainly help gain a deeper sense of compassion for those suffering the effects of depression: Below the Valley - a Personal Experience of Depression.


There are many causes of Depression: hormones, stress, grief, genetic disposition, bio-chemical causes and even spiritual!

YWAMers are exposed to large amounts of stress in our roles and in our lifestyle:

  • Missionary work is stressful. Success is difficult to assess and may not be possible to see at all. Working with people is very challenging. People based work is not clearly defined in terms of working hours and it is hard to get a work/life balance.
  • Cross-cultural work is stressful.
  • Cross-cultural living is stressful. Living in a different culture to your birth culture is painful. It is not easy to be understood and a lot of our confidence in how we should do things due to our cultural heritage can be invalidated when we are in a different culture.
  • Financial worries. Because of our reliance of relational faith and support from a network of partners we face a lot of strain in keeping those relationships alive. We also face times of great need and constantly choose a simplistic lifestyle to match our income. While simplicity brings many benefits all YWAMers can recall the stress of uncertain financial times.
  • YWAM work is stressful. In many cases we are under resourced and the required funding, staff, training and oversight is lacking or absent.
  • YWAM marriages are under pressure. Marriage is a great joy but also a great responsibility to do right. Often stress in missionary life and in the mission cause great pressure on family life. In turn marital disharmony causes great personal stress.
  • Post-natal depression is a very common cause of depression in women.

Many of these factors often combine.


You really need a professional diagnoses to know if you are really suffering from depression. It is highly recommended. There are many types and sub-types of depression and a professional can see between them and rule them out. They also can offer a range of help.

If you would like to try an online test to give you a small indication of a potential problem you can try (this author found it accurate)

Response to Depression in the Mission

This author's opinion is that there is no clear position, but it is generally misunderstood and negative (with some great exceptions).

  • Open discussion of and support for depression is almost totally absent in the mission.
  • Depression is perceived as a sign weakness or a spiritual ailment. A strong pressure to be able to "snap out of it" and that all that is needed is more reliance on God.
  • We use the phrase "Burnout" as a euphemism for Depression in the mission at times. Although it is true that Depression can follow serious burnout, not all depression is caused by burnout.
  • Reliance on medication is considered a sign of spiritual weakness.

The reluctance to accept depression as an illness is not limited to the mission field. It rather matches our western culture: as if our worth would depend on the amount of work we are able to cope with.

How to Care for Yourself When Depressed

  1. If you think you are depressed, immediately see a Doctor and follow the Doctors' advice.
  2. If you are recommended medication, take it. Modern anti-depressants (the SSRI class such as Prozac and Cipramil) are VERY effective, NON addictive and can make a world of difference to your recovery. (Note that these medicines take about 3 -4 weeks to work and you most likely will feel worse before you feel much better)
  3. Learn as much as you can about depression. One very good book is: Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong , Dr Tim Cantopher, ISBN 978-0859698962.
  4. Take some time to heal. Treat your depression like a broken leg - if you had a broken leg people would expect you to rest, wear a plaster cast, accept pain killers, need support. Depression is no difference and your body will heal itself over time with support.
  5. Join a supportive group. There are YWAMers on depressant medication, there are people in local churches who are depressed. Some churches have special support groups. Join non-Christian support groups too. Don't withdraw; even though social interaction is incredibly draining for a depressed person, it is also really important to continue to meet and relate to others.
  6. Meet friends. Their very presence will help you feel less lonely; not because they can help you, but because they are going through this with you, together. (In retrospect, I feel I had my deepest relationships during a depressive phase in my life. PitPat)
  7. Do things you like and things that cheer you up. Listen to your favourite comedy radio channels, watch funny films, read your favourite books (if you can), go on your favourite walks. You will need it. Eat your favourite foods (save the diets for when you are much better!).
  8. Exercise if you can. Gentle or even vigorous exercise is very helpful and gives a good sense of well-being.
  9. Don't worry if you can't pray or read the Bible. If Elijah couldn't deal well with depression (1 Kings 19), why do we think we will be more successful? Depression effects your whole being: Physical, Mental, Social and Spiritual. Tell people you are in a "Desert Time". That will keep them quiet. Your spiritual readiness will return.
  10. Trust God. Enjoying being a child of the King, no matter how you are and what you are doing. (These kind of advice seems so shallow while being depressive - yet I learned a deep trust that God will guide me through, sometimes invisibly, but present. Sheila Walsh ("Outrageous Love", ISBN 1404101101) felt similar, I think. PitPat)
  11. Expect to have a lack of confidence - depression will attack you there. Reduce your engagements accordingly.
  12. Expect set backs. Your recovery will be gradual. You will have ups and downs each day. Progress should be measured in weeks. Sometimes you will have terrible setbacks. This is normal. Don't worry - you will get better.

Keeping Yourself Well

Once you are recovered and feeling back to your old self you may be withdrawing from the medication and be ready to throw yourself back into the thick of things!


The chances are your will end up depressed again in months if you take no time to see why your body "blew a fuse" like it did. Fuses blow when too much current passes because of a fault in the system. You need to look at what the fault is and see what can be done to rectify that.

  1. Counselling can help very much here. Perhaps you have issues that you need to talk through and need to resolve that put extra pressure on you. Seek out a good counsellor. Someone you don't know. You will need 6-10 sessions. A good counsellor will talk with you at the end of your time and start the process to stop meeting. Don't find a counsellor who will keep you dependent on them!
  2. Aim low! Seriously, make meaningful goals that you will be able to achieve. People with depression often suffer from a weight of imposed responsibility.
  3. Educate yourself about depression.
  4. Educate yourself about yourself! Find your real limits. What drains you and why.
  5. Start to put proper and loving limits to work and other peoples demands on you. This is often the hardest step of all, but is very, very important.
  6. Get supportive accountability!
  7. Are there other deeper problems? Physical, ADHD.
  8. Deal with stress.
  9. Set alarm bells and trip wires (examples?).

How to Care for Others Who Are Depressed

  • Be sensitive.
  • Be prepared to give people space and time to recover.
  • Listen.
  • Learn about depression - don't assume you understand it all.
  • Read the recommended books here.
  • Keep watch for people who are over busy, easily put upon, going through challenging circumstances etc. Perhaps they may need some pastoral input?

Personal Experience

Below the Valley - a Personal Experience of Depression

I am very happy to discuss my experience of depression with anyone who would appreciate it. --Kev-The-Hasty 23:25, 11 September 2007 (CEST)