"How to Fight Depression"
Talks on Serious Subjects
"For a man who does not work, there can be no leisure." - Josef Pieper
"Depression treatments with the best track record are designed to be fairly short, lasting less than a year, and focus on correcting distorted thought patterns. For example, a typical way of thinking that exacerbates depression is known as the "romantic worldview," in which a person crumbles whenever circumstances don't turn out as planned. Working with a therapist, depression sufferers learn to adopt more of a "tragic" worldview (the philosophical belief that for every loss something is gained, and vice versa), which tends to reduce stress-inducing thoughts. ...
Electroconvulsive therapy--popularly known as electroshock--was and still is one of the most effective treatments against depression."
RTMS: Scientists have long searched for a depression treatment that works faster, and now they think they've found it. Using a promising experimental procedure known as "rapid transcranial magnetic stimulation," scientists are getting results after six days. A new twist on an old idea, RTMS uses a powerful magnet to deliver an electric jolt to the brain, in the same fashion as electroconvulsive therapy but without electric stimulation to unnecessary parts of the brain. The idea is something like a defibrillator for the heart: The electric voltage that passes through the brain causes many neurons to fire at once, and something about this action seems to reset the rate at which the brain releases the various chemicals implicated in depression. In clinical trials of RTMS, many of those patients who have failed to respond to several other treatments improved within a week, and the vast majority are significantly better after two weeks of 20-minute RTMS sessions."
-- Melancholy Nation, U.S. News and World Report Mar. 8, 1999
1st Samuel 16:14-23
The Spirit of the Lord's peace departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord was permitted to afflict him. Saul's servants noticed the change in Saul's heart, so they said to Saul "Behold! An evil spirit from God is afflicting you. Let our King Saul now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre! When the evil spirit from God afflicts you, he will play the lyre, and you will be well." So Saul said to his servants, "Provide for me a man who can play well, and bring him to me." One of the young men in Saul's service answered, "I know one of the son's of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skillful in playing the lyre. He is also a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of noble presence: the Lord is with him." So Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, "Send me David your son, who is with the sheep." Jesse then took an ass laden with bread, and a skin of wine and a kid, and sent them with David his son to Saul. Thus, David came to Saul, and entered into his service. Saul loved him greatly, and David became his armor-bearer. Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, "Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight." Whenever the evil spirit from God afflicted Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand; so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
The man with an afflicted soul is like a man trapped in a tunnel. He knows that the sky is blue and the earth is full of life, but he feels like he can not see. He knows the glories of the night sky and the brightness of the stars, but they give him no joy. If he becomes convinced that nothing but darkness remains for him, the fog of suicide which blocks out all remaining hope may totally envelop him, and he may despair. There is no joy in the journey through this tunnel of affliction. The only hope comes from accepting that there are no alternatives and that there are no options for the moment. The man has no choice: he must proceed forward in order to escape.
When I declared not my sin and hid it, my body wasted away as in groaning all day long. Day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to thee and unto my own soul. I could not hide from my iniquity; so I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord"; then you forgave me the guilt of my sin and my soul was revived.
|Depression is different from than the
temporary sorrows, or despondence, or meloncholies that constantly visit
men because of the circumstances of life. Depression is an affliction of
the soul and body which confounds the mind and robs the heart of strength.
It is a challenge that presents itself at some point to every one. Many
souls endure it for long periods of time. If one chooses to focus his attentions
upon this hell on earth, he may never escape from it. He himself must choose
to bring heaven down to earth. One may do this through actively pursuing
a covenant of reconciliation with Almighty God, and by donating himself
to the service to others. Thus, God may turn his darkened soul into a channel
of light and love. There are many transitory remedies for depression,
but there is no remedy for a life without love, save for love itself.
Most of the time life wonderfully conspires to lift the spirits of those who are temporarily despondent. But if someone is truly depressed, this lift does not last. The music that David played on his lyre lifted Saul's spirits temporarily, but the evil spirit came back over and over again.
Many people rarely turn off their music, because of the natural tendency of the soul of man towards depression. Music is not the only thing that temporarily lifts the spirits of those who are depressed. It is the nature of man to seek all sorts of distractions which foil the authentic human need to actually contribute in a meaningful way to life itself. Josef Pieper's book: 'Leisure, the Basis of Culture' came to be regarded as a classic, precisely because it so freshly articulated a classic notion of philosophy. Pieper recovers the true meaning of leisure, which is not a state of idleness, but an occasion for noble activity beyond the field of servile work.
The English will spend hours chasing a fox, but they would never take the fox for free if it were offered to them. It is not actually the fox they seek, but the challenge of the chase. The hunt is only a distraction: for the sake of distraction. Men need to be distracted so that they can avoid the painful reality of being alone with themselves. Usually, life occupies men with it's own necessities. If life itself leaves men any time for leisure, men create for themselves trivial distractions. Without these, they are forced to endure the painful silence of self awareness. Without distractions, men are forced to question the meaning of their own existence and meaningful answers often evade them. A person who is suffering from depression might be more deeply aware of the realities of life than are others who are not suffering from this 'torn-to-pieces-hood'.
Men will gather to play card games for hours. And yet if one were to simply offer them the money that they might win at the game, they will object to not being allowed to play. They pretend that they hope to win money, but really they are addicted to the distraction that the game provides. If something of value is not at stake, they will not play at all. Games of no apparent consequence are not sufficient distractions. They must appear to be real. Even the pain that men suffer from the losses of gambling, or the gains they enjoy from the wins, are nothing but further distractions. Without distractions the soul is alone with itself. The human heart is made for love, and nothing short of love can satisfy it's needs. The most excellent of all loves is charity. Through charity the soul finds itself united to the love of God himself. Only God's love can satisfy the human heart. The wisdom of St. Francis is without compare: "it is in giving that we receive."
There are a number of misconceptions about depression:
1. Some people think that depression is reserved for a few souls who are physiologically or psychologically weak. Indeed, depression bears a stigma of weakness. People who seek treatment often hide it from their friends and associates. There is no good reason to broadcast to the universe that one is depressed. Publicly complaining about one's constant misery can become an intolerable habit of it's own. People who frequently complain quickly become burdensome to those around them. Working together to solve problems presented by a worthwhile cause is much more edifying to those involved.
Nonetheless, sharing ones deepest pains and concerns with trusted friends, or spiritual advisors or councilors is often necessary to effect the process of healing, or integration. I prefer to use the term 'integration' in place of 'healing' sometimes, when dealing with issues of mental health. Healing implies that a person was at one time more mentally healthy than he is now - which may not be the case with a person who is suffering from depression. "Integration" rather, refers to properly ordering one's physical, emotional, social, and spiritual life in such a way that one might gain a greater health that he ever had before. A person may be depressed precisely because he has never gained the health of optimal personal integration. Afflicted persons are often able to quickly identify the areas of their lives which suffer from dis - integration.
Strong people do suffer depression. 'Saul stood a head taller than any man in Israel.' He had broad shoulders, he had a strong constitution, he was a fearsome warrior, and he was a respected king. But still he was chronically depressed. David, after him, was also a great warrior. He became the greatest King of Israel. Yet he also suffered severely from the torments of depression. Dozens of the psalms of David reflect the torment of his soul. It was King David himself who first penned the prophetic words: "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" David's son, King Solomon, who is said to have been the wisest man to have ever lived, wrote the greatest book on depression in the Bible: The Book of Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of Vanities, all is vanity and chasing of the wind. There is nothing good under the sun, save for a man to be content in his work and to die."
2. Some think that depression is special hell reserved only for a few. Not so! It affects almost everyone at some point in their lives.
An excellent article in U.S. News & World Report, published in March of 1999, entitled "Melancholy Nation" provides profound insights about modern medical perspectives, and remedies for depression. The World Health Organization says that, by the year 2020, depression will likely rank second only to heart disease as a disabler of persons. It already ranks first among women and fourth overall. On any given day depression affects 18 million Americans. 12 million go untreated. Chances are 1 in 5 that we will experience a long lasting major depression in our life. The question is: "Will we be able to find good help if we become depressed?"
When people refuse to seek treatment for depression, they hurt themselves and the people they love. One therapist says, "Depressed people do not love themselves." How can we effectively love others if healthy self-love is lacking? Jesus says that all the law and the prophets can be summed up in two commandments: 1) We are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. 2) We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
3. Some people think that depression is a mental illness.
Depression is both a mental and physical affliction. If a person is suffering from emotional distress that is caused by long term chemical imbalances, or from a disordered neurological condition of the brain, depression can be a psycho pathology. In that regard, it can be considered to be a mental illness. But it is not a psychosis. Depressed people are not crazy. It is not a break from reality. In fact, depression may be a natural and appropriate response to reality. Depressed people are not psychotic. They may conduct all their actions with a high degree of emotional balance. Far from being crazy, they may be more sane than people who habitually entertain themselves with violence or pornography, and they may certainly be more mentally healthy than guffawing baffoons who laugh at the sufferings of others, or who take on no legitimate responsibilities of their own.
The causes of chronic clinical depression are a varied as are the people who suffer from depression. However, the measurable chemical and physiological changes that occur on a medical level, in cases of depression, are very similar. Occasionally, depression's might be related to something that happened long ago. Such scars or resentments might fester like an emotional wound that will not heal. Such scars or shames may not only torment a soul consciously, but also unconsciously. Likewise, clinical depression can develop as a result from a recent emotional or psychic wounding.
Human beings often become depressed when they lose someone that they love. If you loose someone you love, you may become clinically depressed. Such depression may be very acute, but it has a specific cause. If you choose to pick a fight with God in such a situation, you may be buying into a life time of rage, grief, and endless emotional trouble. It is far wiser to remember the words of Cato: "The only hope comes from accepting that there are no alternatives, and that there are no options: one must proceed forward in order to escape." Souls who choose to resent the will of God for the long term, are like horses who imagine that they are going to train their master by being non compliant. In reality, on a therapeutic level, it is much easier on the human psyche to accept the will of God.
It is futile, and very damaging, to choose to intentionally rage against an unchangeable reality. That may border on insanity, because it may consist in a fundamental psychic break from accepting reality. Choosing to remain angry and hostile about an unchangeable event which occurred in the past is very mentally and spiritually unhealthy. How many hundreds of thousands have looked down at their loved ones bodies in a mass grave, after having been murdered by acts of genocide? Are you so special that you do not deserve to suffer atrocities that countless other millions have been forced to endure? None of us is so special that we must be exempted from suffering the grievous sorrows or frustrations that afflict all mankind.
If it is any consolation, St. Claude La Columbierre said: "If something has happened to make you angry, and you then become angry at God, you are angry at the right person!" This is because God is indeed the first cause of every event that might ever happen. He created the universe, and he placed all of it's elements in motion. Even if it is something horribly evil, it is God, who in his wisdom set up a universe in which those who dwell within it have free will, and must live within the physical laws of nature. It does not matter how freakish particular events may seem to be. Other human beings can choose to harm you or your loved ones, just as you can choose to harm them. Often, the perpetrator of a crime may be just as confused and sorrowful as the victim. It is a great success for the devil if he is able to kill two or more souls with the same sword. It is our duty, and our responsibility, to ultimately accept God's manifest will for us - whether we initially like it or not. We have no other choice if we wish to remain sane.
Theologians state that God does not get involved in games of chance. God created matter, and he gave the universe physical laws. If men choose to paint dots on dice - and to invent a gambling game - God is NOT going to supernaturally interfere in the way the dice roll. It's not God's fault if you loose your money - except insofar as he created the universe in the first place - and that he gave you the free choice to play the game. Neither has God specifically intervened to bless you, if you win. In either case, the moral actions of a man before and after the game are of far greater importance in the divine scheme. In the same way, some people seem to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Some child may have thrown a banana peal on the ground; you might just happen to walk along and slip on it and break your back! It can be in cases like these where God often does eventually manifest his divine power. He can, and he does order the universe in such a way to bring a far greater good out of something that men believe to be an evil at the time. How many fortunes have been made because men strive to overcome some need or difficulty which they perceive to be an evil?
God will never allow evil to triumph completely - but in the smallness of the hearts of men, they often choose only to focus upon those things that contradict their own wills. God, however, is interested in cultivating an attitude of acceptance in the hearts of his servants to the unchangeable realities of his universe. In this way men grow into the fulness of the divine stature. No person has ever become great, who has not endured great suffering. No one can be called wise, who has not been been broken by grief or personal tragedy. Men hope to become great and wise, and yet they may curse every experience that would lead them to personal greatness or wisdom! The greatest sufferings can create the greatest hero's, and the most incomprehensible sorrows can create the wisest of men.
Your guardian angel might steer you around the banana peel. If you do break your back, however, then that is God's will and he expects you to learn to deal with the reality with noble submission. This is precisely the great and terrible challenge of human existence. The continual crosses and sufferings which human beings are forced to endure are no more good or evil, in themselves, than are the pleasures men may enjoy from a good meal - or from the triumph of a great achievement. Pain in itself is not evil. It is no more evil than pleasure. Evil exists within in the will of man, and is manifested by the disposition of his heart and by his deeds. Evil can be seen by the ways that men choose to deal with pain or pleasure: be it unholy greed, or love of lust, or in the hatred and rejection of God's will. It must be clearly recognized that there is no such thing as a cross that the human heart does not initially hate. The cross always consists in something that an individual perceives to be hateful. If they did not seem to be hateful, crosses would not be sufferings. The challenge for man is to accept the things he cannot change, or to find the courage to change the things he can.
St. Claude points out that when King Saul was a very young man, he was out tending his fathers donkey's. The donkeys broke free from Saul - and he was forced to chase them over hill and dale trying to catch them. St. Claude observes that all of Saul's swearing did not matter to God, because when he found himself on the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere, there stood the prophet Samuel. Samuel said to Saul: God told me to go out onto this hill and to wait. The one you meet there you are to anoint as King of Israel. Right there and then Samuel anointed Saul as King of Israel. God can use any event he chooses to effect his purposes. The choice to meet those circumstances with good manners or not is up to us. He may be dragging us by the arm, as a parent might drag a child out of the way of an oncoming car. If he wills to do something, he will do it - whether we like it or not.
It is very important to accept the scriptural admonition: "we are not to grieve as those who have no hope." (1st Thes. 4:13) Grief is natural. But, if a soul turns away from hope and resists healing through nursing his anger and resentment - or by refusing to humble himself, serious and long lasting depression can develop. Working through this kind of depression is a soul's greatest challenge. This may well be the true "valley of the shadow of death."
There are other environmental factors that contribute to a mental depression. Long-term unresolved stress is a serious factor in the depression of children, adolescents, and adults. Improper diet, inadequate rest, or inadequate exercise are serious contributing factors. Thus, an extended illness, or chronic pain may lead to depression. It has been speculated that chronic back pain is a leading cause of depression.
Left untreated, depression attacks the body as well as the mind. Researchers say that much of the worst long-term damage from depression can be linked to cortisol, a stress hormone. It is harmless in small doses, but it ravages the body when pumped continuously into the system by depression or anxiety. This stress related hormone robs us of energy, mobility, sex drive, memory, and most importantly, the ability to feel, or to correctly process basic human emotions.
One man, suffering from long term depression stated: "I no longer feel anything for my wife, my mother, my father, or my children. I used to lie awake at night and cry about this, but I have lost the capacity for tears." When depression moves into this stage, short-term regimens of antidepressant medications may be necessary.
"Most psychiatrists now believe that in severe depression, medication is needed to restore enough bodily and cognitive functioning for a sufferer to then attack the unhealthy thinking that has grown out of the illness. Most of the more than 20 types of psychotherapy show some success with depression, but those with the best track record are designed to be fairly short, lasting less than a year, and focus on correcting distorted thought patterns." (from the article on depression: U.S. News)
Physicians who treat depressed patients with longer term courses of antidepressants are not helping to cure them of the underlying condition. Assuming that a long term course of antidepressant medication is going to bring integration into the life of a depressed person, is psychiatry at it's worst. The brain must be treated like an engine that usually can run properly on it's own. In the case of depression, the engine is sputtering, and stalling. Initially, it may only need to have the carburetor adjusted temporarily, probably for no more than four months, and preferably for no more than two months, to begin to run smoothly again. The goal must be to help to initiate actions that will facilitate a comprehensive integration of the human being's physical, emotional and spiritual life.
Long term use of anti-depressants medication is not effective. With the help of the medication, the patient should be using that time to strive to simultaneously regain spiritual, emotional, and physical fitness. He must NOT rely on the momentary adjustment to the neurotransmitter balance effected by antidepressants. The body quickly re-adjusts itself to the administered medication, and it will, very likely, eventually reject the drug by inducing an even greater sense of agitation, or anxiety, or disassociative feeling, than the person had before he began the medication. Then, the process becomes a constant switching of meds, hoping to regain the initial satisfaction that may have initially enjoyed by a drug induced "change of pace". This behavior is identical to a drug addict who is constantly seeking to re-create a good "high". This type of chemical dependence is a plague to be avoided at all costs - especially with antidepressant medication. About 90% of the time - if one feels "cured" - the effect is as much psychosomatic as anything else. You could give a moderately depressed person a sugar pill - and tell him that the drug cures depression in 98% of all cases. Within 2 days - the expectant hope will create a "change" - which the person attributes to the drug. Really - all he has done is psyched himself into feeling better - because he had a crutch which gave him hope.
If a regimen of antidepressants is to be effective, a person must be prepared to take advantage of the moments of change of pace that will occur when the drug reaches therapeutic levels. With newer antidepressants, this occurs within the first 72 hours. If a person feels momentary relief, he must very conscientiously to take moral inventory and to plan for action. He must utilize the realizations that are provided for him by tweaking the carburetor in his brain. He must use these opportunities to take on new personal responsibilities, and to begin new behaviors that will lead to physical, emotional, and spiritual fitness. If these opportunities are lost, the person will most likely become dependent upon the drugs, but he will enjoy no notable improvement in the quality of his life in the long term. If this happens, chronic clinical depression could continue because of the drugs. Tweaking the carburetor of the brain for a 3 - 8 weeks, is certainly a reasonable course of treatment for moderate to severe depression, but it is not an independent answer for resolve the underlying causes of depression. If a person believes he is suffering from a truly abnormal psychological imbalance, he would be much more well advised to experiment with regimens of effective but mild anti-psychotic medications like Depakote or Zyprexa. Medications are much like shoes. One must be prepared to try a few medications to find out which actually best fits his own body. With modern antidepressants 2 weeks to one month is enough to gauge if the medication is useful. If it is not - try something different.
If a person desires to adjust the carburetor of his neurotransmitters, he might ask himself: am I more anxious than I am despondent? - or - am I more despondent than I am anxious? With common depression, anxiety, and loss of motivation are different sides of the same coin. If a person feels more despondent than he feels anxious - he might request his physician to allow him to start with a medication that tends to increase dopamine, like Welbutrin. That will tend to make the depressed person feel better, and more inclined to actually do the activities that he knows he needs to do to get physically, emotionally, and spiritually fit. Welbutrin tends to enable a person to 'get going'.
On the other hand, if a person feels as if they are suffering more from a fatigued nervous anxiety, (like grinding ones teeth), then one might start with those more commonly recommended selective seratonin re-uptake inhibitors, (SSRI's). In this notorious family of panacea's for the world's ill's are: Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. (Luvox is a bad drug in this authors opinion - and should be taken off the market. Everyone I know who has ever taken that drug for any long period of time ends up with a greater sense of anxiety and disassociative weirdness than any of the others.) These SSRI's may actually be treating what is called "agitated depression." The person feels depressed - because he is deeply angry or frustrated - to the point of feeling defeated. But, the relief from this agitated depression is only temporary. If people are wound-up, they may simply be unable to receive the suggestion that they slow down - without the help of such a drug. But, It can not be emphasized strongly enough that courses of any of the above mentioned SSRI's which run a course of over 8 months almost always finally induce strange feelings of permanent anxiety - or they become completely ineffective - or both. Alternatively, Welbutrin can jump-start a patient out of a slump - but after several months (more or less) it also will ultimately intensify feelings of hostility or anxiety.
4. There is another school of though about depression. Some religious people feel that depression is nearly always the result of sin, or that depression itself is sin.
The actual validity of this notion must be decided by a very personal, and intimate examination of ones own conscience. The assistance of an intelligent spiritual director is often helpful in this regard. Human beings are very pridefull, and this pride often spawns resentment and anger which results in depression. That pride is spiritually very unhealthy; it can become emotionally, physically, and mentally damaging. Serious, depressing spiritual desolations that the Lord will place upon his loved ones are as certain to occur as God is God. "Pick up your cross, and follow me." "By the sufferings in our own bodies we make up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ." We have no choice but to endure what the Lord places upon us. When we suffer, we can curse and we can complain, but it is certain that our curses and complaints are not going to train God how to train us. We find our answers either by changing the reality, or by accepting the reality - not hating it. How many times do we become angry or furious over some non-essential annoyance?? The only way for such a demanding personality to find peace is to simply surrender to the will of God - starting with the small things. For every time you curse some small annoyance - you are setting yourself up for blasphemy at a great inconvenience, or for suicide when you face some catastrophe.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great 19th Century Baptist, who has been called "the prince of preachers," suffered from depression most of his adult life. Some scholars have suggested that St. Paul's "thorn in the flesh" may have been depression. Paul had every right to be depressed. His longing for the conversion of the Jews was so intense that he stated that he would be willing to go to hell himself, if it could effect the Salvation of the Jewish nation. They were a constant anxiety for him. (2nd Cor. 11:28) At the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, "If the misery I feel was equally divided among every member of the human race, there would not be even one single smile anywhere on the whole earth." Good people do suffer depression.
5. There is another misconception about depression, the idea that depressed people can diagnose themselves. Sometimes, we find it hard to admit depression, and it takes a friend, or friends, to tell us.
Did you notice verse 15 of the passage from 1st Samuel?
15 And Saul's servants said to him, "Behold now, an evil spirit from God is afflicting you."Many millions Americans are suffering depression and go without treatment. Some of them may live in your home. You may be one of them. Depressed people are not themselves. Never make any major decisions when you are in a state of desolation. Most people regret decisions they made when they were depressed. They regret the house they sold. They regret quitting their school, or their jobs. They regret the hostility and the rage that accompanied punishing their spouse by a divorce, and tearing apart a loving family. They regret turning their backs on God. St. Francis DeSales is extremely clear: major decisions about anything should never be made while one is enduring spiritual desolations. DeSales advises that choices may be pondered - but decisions should only be made when the soul is in a state of consolation. In other words, always make certain that you are in your right mind when you make a decision.
In closing, keep two things in mind.
Peter asked the Lord: 'what is to become of this man?' (He was referring
to John). Jesus rebuked him, saying: "if I were to have him remain until
I come again - what is it to you? Rather, you follow me."
This article was inspired by an article of the same name by Dr. Worth Green. It has been modified and creatively interpreted for this site: but the outline and format of Dr. Green was used as a template.
The original article is found at:
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