Is Depression Purely Biological?

More Than Just Biology

Is depression purely biological? Dr. David Powlison, counselor and faculty member at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), discusses the biological component of depression and other factors involved in the diagnosis. 

David Powlison has been doing biblical counseling for over 30 years and has written numerous articles on counseling and on the relationship between faith and psychology. His books include Speaking Truth in Love, Seeing with New Eyes, Power Encounters, and The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context. 

David does believe there can be a biological basis for depression, but he doesn’t believe depression is purely biological. He gave various different examples of factors that contribute to depression. Some examples of depression with a biological component are:

  • depression associated with hypothyroidism
  • depression due to menstrual hormones
  • depression from temperamental sadness
All of these can be life-long, even if the person affected is seeking biblical counsel and taking the needed steps for health. 

Have you or someone you know ever suffered some kind of sadness or depression due to hypothyroidism, menstrual hormones, or another physical health ailment? How would you describe that kind of sadness versus circumstantial sadness?
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David said that human beings all have different temperaments. When faced with difficult circumstances, some tend to be more afraid or angry—others tend to seek pleasure more regularly or try to maintain more control. Many of those who are clinically depressed simply have a disposition toward melancholy.  

Are you or someone you know temperamentally depressed? How does that depression affect you or that person?
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David said biology is only one component of depression. Life experiences also play a role in people’s sadness. Share a time or circumstance that made you abnormally sad. Why was that time particularly devastating?
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David noted depression is common among the elderly. Imaging losing all the people you’ve always known and loved. What other particular seasons in life can you imagine producing a lot of sadness in people?
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Finally, sin can also be a factor in depression. If you lose your temper or cheat in business often, for example, and you feel guilty but continue to lose your temper or cheat, you are likely to feel sad. When you think of your own sins, are there any that are causing you to feel frequently sad? If so, take a minute to confess them.
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David said there is a place for anti-depressant medication when it helps a biological condition like thyroid replacement or is taken as part of a more holistic healing plan that includes spiritual counsel and doing the real “work” of healing. Because of their ability to improve mood, David also advises medication if it will provide stability for people when they’re facing significant losses or going through a particularly difficult time. He advises the medication alongside spiritual counsel and other recommended measures.

What has your experience been with anti-depressants? What are some ways you can help erase the stigma associated with anti-depressants so that the people who really need them are not discouraged?
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After listening to David and working through this post, what do you think is needed to help yourself or someone you know who suffers from depression? If you need more guidance, who is someone you could talk to for your next step? Go ahead and write that person down and contact them.
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While biology is a part of depression, it doesn’t tell the full story. Even seemingly random factors like gloomy weather can contribute to depression, making people feel uncommonly sad. We should be sensitive to the needs of those who are depressed and do our best to sympathize with their pain. If we ourselves suffer depression, we are wise to seek counsel and help for healing. 

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