Are you needlessly experiencing hopelessness and despair? It is time you understood the reasons for this all-too-common human affliction!
IT IS a tragic but real fact of life. Mental depression has run like a heavy dark thread throughout the fabric of human history. Men and women, the great and small, have suffered periods of "the gray menace" dark emotions that shrouded their lives in feelings of utter despair, hopelessness and helplessness. Health officials say it is increasing, due to rapidly changing social conditions and values. Mental depression is one of humanity's most common illnesses, taking a tremendous toll on marriages, productivity, human growth and happiness. It knows no class barriers. It afflicts rich and poor alike. And though it rises abruptly in incidence with adolescent years, it is also becoming a growing problem in younger children, leading to increasingly more youthful suicides.
Found Way to Escape
Winston Churchill, one of the greatest statesmen of the World War II era, was beset by what he called his "black dog" of depression. Abraham Lincoln suffered frequent depressive moods in his life. Biblical heroes — men of great courage — at times showed their human frailty and weakness by suffering from this problem. King David of Israel, Elijah, Jeremiah and others, all powerful prophets or leaders, experienced deep depressions, some to the point of wanting to die. These men, however, found a way of escape from depression. They, and others since, were able to tap the right power and resources to conquer fear, worry, and deal with seemingly hopeless situations. Out of weakness they were made strong (Heb. 11:34). Out of their suffering they became more stable, more compassionate, more mature persons.
Wearing Many Faces
Mental depression wears many faces. Though it commonly has psychological (mental — emotional) roots it can also be caused by numerous health problems or physical changes in the human body that you need to be aware of. Depression is a broad range of negative states of mind. At one end of the scale, depression shows up as the common, short-term down or blue feeling after hearing bad news. Or perhaps learning of the loss of something or someone. Sometimes it results from a blow to the ego. This blue feeling may last for only a few hours or days at most. At the other extreme are chronic or lifelong crippling emotions of futility, hopelessness, emptiness, lack of joy and energy. These can be coupled with total loss of self-esteem, unremitting guilt, shame and eventual suicide. There is much ground in between these two extremes. Mental depression may be mild, moderate or severe. Or it may be masked — a person doesn't even realize he is suffering from it, though he manifests symptoms to others. Every one of us has his blue days. It's our common response to losses or setbacks, or to something we feel we failed to achieve in life. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick," says Scripture (Prov. l3:12, RAV). The vast majority of depressed persons (90 percent, estimate some authorities) find the resources to snap out of it, although it may take days, weeks or even months to fully recover. These persons resolve their losses, setbacks or failures and go on. For around 10 percent of afflicted persons, however, depression becomes chronic or frequent, way out of proportion to a loss. For these persons, depression is unresolved and leads to week after week of feelings of helplessness and guilt — that life isn't worth living. This condition is serious and needs skilled help. Yet, most cases of depression (some authorities say 75 percent) go undiagnosed and victims receive no special help. Depressed persons often are too ashamed to admit to anyone that they can't cope with a certain problem or set of problems in life. Their depression, though painful, is covered up. That's false pride at work. No person is always strong or capable under every adverse condition, circumstance or setback in life. Everyone needs help with some problems in life.
What Depression Is
The majority of depressed feelings begin in response to a specific loss, fear of loss or adverse occurrence in life — something one can pinpoint. There seems no way of retrieving or achieving what is lost or what is threatened with loss. The depressive cycle leads to collapse of self-worth, then to self-deprecation, then to a feeling that the situation is hopeless. Hopeless attitudes produce changes in responses of the mind and body, which begin to immobilize the person. Perhaps you have felt that helplessness. In depression, all systems — mental and physical — slow down. Growing evidence from medical and mental health research indicates changes occur in the chemical balances of the brain and nervous system. These changed chemical balances alter transmission of brain and nerve impulses, which, in turn, produce disturbing brain patterns and painful or crippling emotional and physical feelings. In depression, the perceptions, thoughts and feelings are distorted — a major reason depressives should not make great life-impacting decisions until they seek help and recover sufficiently to see more objectively their situation and proper course of action. Serious depressives often say: "I can't get out of this.... It's hopeless .... I'll never get better. ... Things will never change." Others feel: "I'm powerless to do anything; what's the use of trying? ... There are no options .... I'm drained, empty. I can't sleep. I can't keep going on like this, but I see no way out." Depressives mentally stop fighting. They are possessed with their own sad feelings. They often assume others are equally obsessed with similar feelings (they are not). One type of depressive, the manic-depressive, swings between periods of extreme optimism and unfounded pessimism. Depressives stubbornly resist reassurances of their worth. Statements to "snap out of it" or "pull yourself together" usually have little effect. These persons, of course, do not need ridicule or further loss of self-esteem; their morbid mind is full of negative thoughts already.
For every serious depressive there are several masked depressives — persons functioning, howbeit at far less than their ability, in jobs, homes or schools. They don't realize that their emotional problems, difficulties with a job or other people, or many of their physical ills, are caused by a subtle depression, which they do not recognize. For many of these persons, lack of positive emotions and attitudes have become a way of life for so long, they don't realize why happiness and good feelings perpetually elude them. Masked depressives find little true joy in life. They are constantly restless and irritable. They may not admit depression, but they will seek help for a physical affliction caused by it. They fill doctors' offices with real or imagined complaints of lack of energy, chronic headaches, stomach problems, constipation, and similar ills. Many of these patients seek a miracle pill or drug to free them of their ills. The peace of mind and better health they seek will only occur when they develop a positive and constructive state of thinking and handling their problems! Still others, because their depression is mixed with anxiety, engage in frenzied pleasure-seeking, sexual activity or even violence. Growing numbers of depressives drown their depression in alcohol or drugs to kill the mental pain of weakness, emptiness and futility. What a tragic toll! And the reason is humanity has jumped the track! Let's understand.
Vulnerable to Depression?
In normal grief at a loss, a certain amount of sadness or crying is often helpful and necessary to work through to normal feelings. Grief at the loss of a loved one or something highly valued is not wrong. It becomes unhealthy and damaging when it causes total loss of personal self-worth, or the desire to live. Grief is damaging when it is unresolved and limits one in doing ordinary human functions for weeks or months on end. The line between natural remorse and pathologic depression may be a subjective judgment. To make an illustration, a man who loses a job and is unable to mobilize himself to find work for weeks after being fired or losing his job is seriously depressed and needs help and encouragement. While the cause of a depression is often related to a loss one can pinpoint (sometimes called a reactive depression), the cause at times can be much more vague — a mood we don't understand. Depressed feelings can come over a person for no seemingly rational reasons. But there are reasons nevertheless — mental, physical or spiritual reasons. Endogenous depressions are related to less distinct causes that develop within a person — perhaps from subconscious or denied fears, needs or desires, which unsettling or unfavorable events now threaten. This kind of depression may develop either slowly or suddenly. There is evidence indicating that a genetic factor makes some persons more vulnerable to frequent depressions. Certain personalities seem more sensitive to blue moods than others. Vulnerability to frequent depressions often depends, however, on the kind of encouragement, values, self-esteem, love or support (or lack of them) that we received in early years of life. Vulnerability may be related to how we learned to respond to losses or problems in life. A depressive mood can float over the mind for no apparent reason. It could be the result of a final straw — reaching a breaking point in a series of unfortunate setbacks in life. Or it could happen for reasons that many totally overlook or are unaware of. How many are aware that even the unconscious violation of God's spiritual laws — the laws of love to God and other human beings, as revealed in the Ten Commandments — sets one up to experience problems or negative attitudes of mind? And doing things we know are wrong results in negative or depressive feelings. Unresolved resentment, bitterness, jealousy, envy or anger leads to feelings of loss, hence to depressed feelings. "Envy is rottenness to the bones," correctly states Scripture (Prov. 14:30). For such sins one needs to ask for forgiveness from God, and others you have offended. Then set your values right and resolve not to do them again. Though many do not believe in evil spiritual forces — Satan and a host of fallen angels (demons) — they do exist and they do influence the minds and attitudes of unwary humanity. No wonder so many psychiatrists and their patients don't understand some of their negative moods or attitudes! (See Ephesians 2:2-3.) Scripture warns: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities , against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness [wicked spirits, margin] in high places" (Eph. 6:12, AV). These evil spirits place damaging and negative moods and feelings in vulnerable or unwary human minds. In some weakened persons, they implant impulses to want to give up on life and end it.
Overwork, prolonged mental stress, anxiety or fear may drain our mental and physical energy levels. Gone are the needed strength and reserves to cope with life and its problems. Physical and mental exhaustion may take weeks or years to develop. But they eventually can translate into mental energy rundown — a feeling of being unable to cope. Improper nutrition can gradually set one up for depression. Too many refined sugars, starches or fats in the diet, or other unbalanced nutrition, can weaken the body's physical endurance, mental alertness and ability to handle problems or stress. Allergic reactions to certain foods or chemical substances in one's environment can also produce mental dullness or depressed feelings, or irritation and agitation. Proper sleep, diet and exercise are necessary to help avoid falling into depressed states of mind. Proper rest, food and creative activity are needed to help a depressed person come out of his or her condition. Creative activity or achievement, even if it must start out small, should be encouraged for depressed persons. One depressed person found putting puzzles together helped her gain self-esteem. Finding correct puzzle pieces helped her rebuild a sense of accomplishment and success. It is necessary to build up, a step at a time, a depressive's sense of worth and accomplishment again. Accomplishments should be pointed out positively to depressives, because in their depressed attitude they may downgrade even things they can accomplish. Here is another important, but comforting, piece of knowledge: Many deeply depressed persons feel they have totally lost all their former skills and abilities, hence are total failures. This is a misleading feeling caused by the depression. Unfortunately, it viciously adds fuel to feelings of hopelessness and futility. But the skills and abilities are really still there! They will return as the person recovers from depression, as he or she reorders his or her life with positive values and attitudes. It is important for recovery that depressives keep moderately active mentally and physically. Resist the temptation to sleep excessively or totally withdraw socially. Although many don't realize it, boredom is another endogenous stress. The human mind and body were created to need a modest amount of healthy variety and stimulation to feel alive and maintain equilibrium. With increasing age the body slows down. Age-appropriate activity and exercise are needed by all. Boredom is the absence or dullness of stimulation and feeling. Boredom produces apathy, lethargy, loss of sense of worth and of positive feelings about oneself. Continual boredom will set one up for a depression. Many of the symptoms of boredom and depression are similar, only the intensity may differ. This tragedy of boredom is virtually engineered in many areas of modern life — such as homes for the elderly, prisons for the criminal and bleak residential quarters. Drugs and alcohol are often used to tranquilize the resulting pain or to fill the emptiness. Yet the pain and suffering will not be truly alleviated without an exciting, worthwhile goal or purpose in life. What is needed is a life filled with faith and hope for growth in the future.
Depressive feelings can be induced by certain drugs, abuses of alcohol, improperly working bodily functions or viral infections. This is called toxic depression. Wrong use of certain drugs needs special emphasis. Many depressives take barbiturates, sedatives, tranquilizers or alcohol-drugs that depress the central nervous system — to alleviate their suffering. Some doctors prescribe such drugs for vague physical complaints not realizing that the problem is not physical — the person is emotionally depressed. Biochemical responses are already depressing the depressive's central nervous system. These drugs may alleviate certain pain or suffering temporarily, but in the long term they depress the brain and nervous system even more. This causes even less ability to solve underlying problems with right responses. There are other physical causes of depression. Imbalances in hormone production can also cause depressive feelings. This may happen from malfunctioning pituitary, adrenal, thyroid or other glands. Adolescence — the onset of puberty — sparks hormone changes that make some youths more prone to emotional upsets, to sadness or mild anxiety. Menstrual, post partum (after birth) or menopause hormonal changes sometimes produce negative moods. Diseases such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, thyroid illness, mononucleosis, infectious hepatitis, a heavy touch of the flu or other poor health conditions can be responsible for some depressive feelings. Because a wide variety of such conditions exist, anyone suffering from prolonged depressive feelings should seek a thorough physical examination to see to what extent any physical health problems may be involved.
The medical and mental health professions today attempt to combat mental depression with a wide variety or combinations of drug, electric, verbal and health therapies. There is controversy over the effectiveness and safety of almost every technique. An arsenal of new drugs has been developed in an attempt to calm or correct chemical imbalances in the depressed patient's mind and central nervous system. Doctors must often experiment with different drugs, and many of these must be taken for several weeks to have an effect. Consequent side effects must then be dealt with. Mental health officials hope such therapy will reduce distressing emotions and feelings to more tolerable levels. Meanwhile therapists try to discover the underlying causes and suggest a course of dealing with them. Or they hope patients relieved of some distressing symptoms will improve by themselves. It is not our editorial policy to make judgments about what is good or bad therapy for depressed persons — all of which treat the effects, not the ultimate causes. Such a decision is the personal responsibility of individuals involved or those taking responsibility for them. For some seriously or chronically depressed persons — especially those threatening suicide or bodily harm — certain drugs or other special treatments may be the only option available if rational communication is no longer possible or if immediate lifesaving is necessary. An objective presentation of the benefits and problems associated with common modern depressive therapies is discussed in the book Depression — How to Recognize It, How to Cure It, How to Grow From It, by Wina Sturgeon; Prentice — Hall, publisher. Our editorial policy, by contrast, is to reveal the causes of our human problems — why humanity is plagued with so much mental illness, with fears, worries and depression.
The Missing Dimension
The missing knowledge about mental depression is revealed in the Bible. Here is spiritual knowledge that unveils both the causes and solution to most mental ills, fears and worries. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge [and that includes spiritual knowledge]..." Why? "... because you have rejected knowledge...." reveals the Creator in Hosea 4:6, Revised Standard Version. Mental ill health is the result of broken spiritual and, possibly, physical laws that God set in motion and mankind as a whole has rejected. Many modern minds think it educated to reject biblical revelation and the reality of immutable spiritual laws. But if we break these laws, eventually they break us! Christ said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). God's written Word is truth. It makes us free — free of mental depressions, free of spiritual depressions, free of sin. The truth that is missing in so many lives and in education in general is the true understanding of the purpose of human life and of the laws, values and attitudes that produce peace of mind, joy and happiness. Millions do not understand how and why their human nature develops with so many damaging values and fearful attitudes in life. Most humans have been blinded to the understanding of how they can receive the spiritual help and power they need to overcome their damaging human pulls and fears — of how to deal with every adverse situation in life with faith and hope — of how "to pray and not to faint," as Jesus taught (Luke 18:1). In coming issues you will read important follow-up articles that will fill in these enormous gaps of spiritual knowledge. You will be shocked to learn how humanity, cut off from God by wrong values and attitudes, has been set up by the devil to experience fears, hopelessness, futility and deep depression. And, finally, you will learn God's way of escape from every fear and depression you now have!