A Fresh Look at Depression
No joy in your life? Haven’t smiled or laughed in a while? Continually sad—filled with despair—hopeless? Ready to give up and end it all by taking your life? It is time to face reality—you are likely depressed.
Yet, take heart that you are not alone. In his book Lincoln’s Melancholy, Joshua Shenk tells us, “Affecting more than 100 million people a year, depression is the world’s leading cause of disability. In 2000, about a million people worldwide killed themselves—about equal to the number of deaths from war and homicide that year put together. Adjusting for population growth, unipolar depression is 10 times more prevalent than it was 10 years ago.” Depression is at epidemic proportions. Alarmingly, depression is even moving into the ranks of the very young—our teens and preteens.
Even though medical science is researching a cure for this mind-altering, personality-changing malady, the cause remains mysteriously elusive. The truth is, depression is not like any other infirmity. It is estimated that over 10 million people in the United States are taking anti-depressant drugs. These drugs are admittedly dangerous—just listen to the list of warnings in a tv commercial—and they treat the symptoms, not the problem.
You cannot wait for science to provide a cure. You can escape this horrible, debilitating black plague, and suicide is not your only option.
Want to break free from the black cloud crowd?
We have good news for you: There is a way out of depression! Here is even better news: You will not have to invest a lot of money in psychiatric sessions, medical doctor visits or dangerous drugs to find the way out. However, you will have to work very hard at times to change your thinking and your behavior—how you conduct your life. Prepare yourself for some joyful, positive change. Let’s get started.
Many Have Found a Way Out
Men and women—the great and the not-so-great—have found the way out of depression.
Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s truly great presidents, survived severely debilitating depression, or what today’s mental health professionals call major depressive episode. Mr. Lincoln told Robert L. Wilson, a political associate, that mental depression overwhelmed him so much at times that he never dared carry a knife in his pocket. Yet this gentle giant was able to lead the United States of America through one of the most critical crises in its history, the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln became world renowned for his wit, wisdom and leadership.
Winston Churchill, the man who courageously kept the Western world free from a permanent scourge of Nazi thugs, made frequent reference to his personal war against a lifelong enemy—depression. Mr. Churchill called depression his black dog, a perfect name for a mental state that constantly nipped at his heels, intending to devour him if given the chance. “I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through,” he wrote. “I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.” His periods of depression were intense and prolonged. However, his productivity and heroic leadership are unparalleled in modern times.
More than one biblical hero had to fight off and overcome depression. Kings, prophets, wise and righteous men were forced to face human frailty and weakness while suffering from deep depression. Overburdened with despair, some of God’s chosen leaders even begged for death to escape its intense torture (study Job 7:13-15; Numbers 11:14-15; 1 Kings 19:4-5; Psalm 88; Ecclesiastes 2:17-20; and Lamentations 3:15, 17-18).
However, Job, Moses, King David and King Solomon of Israel, the great prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, and many others since then, were able to harness the right power and mental resources to conquer anxiety, fear and worry and successfully deal with hopeless situations. Out of their action-numbing weakness, they were made strong (Hebrews 11:34). In fact, their intense suffering made them more stable, more compassionate and more mature men of God.
You can make your way out too. However, you need truthful education to get yourself moving forward on the correct path.
Understanding Depression Symptoms
Mental depression is a chameleon of many colors. Each case is unique to the individual experiencing it. Depression includes a wide range of negative states of mind—from relatively mild to severe.
Doctors readily admit that the cause of major depressive episodes is difficult to pin down. Those seized by its iron claws are often caught completely off guard. Family members or friends often can’t see the major depressive episode coming until it’s too late. This fact makes depression even more disheartening for the sufferer and those around him or her.
Basically, there are four broad categories of depression. I have chosen the more traditional names for these categories; some newer, more clinical-sounding jargon exists, yet the definitions remain the same.
One category of depression is called reactive depression. This is a very mild depression, one from which everyone suffers at some time. It is normal to feel temporarily blue or experience a low mood at times. Solomon tells us in the Proverbs, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Reactive depression can be expected as a result of the death of a spouse or family member. Those going through a divorce generally are depressed for a time. People who lose a job or suffer some other severe personal setback go through a period of feeling down. The causes of reactive depression are as numerous as the number of people in this world. America’s current financial crisis is a perfect example of one cause of severe personal setback. This problem has affected the whole nation. People naturally tend to get blue when they lose their home or when their future financial security is wrecked. Generally, the symptoms related to reactive depression lift after a period of weeks. Generally, those experiencing reactive depression still go about their daily activities without much difficulty.
A second category is called toxic depression. This is generally brought on by drug or substance abuse; it can also come as the result of chemical poisoning. For some people, certain foods or viral infections can cause depression. It is not difficult to understand why drug users and alcoholics suffer from depression. When a person experiences a high—especially a substance-induced one—a low follows. Our bodies are wonderfully made to naturally adjust to highs and lows. A long-term, artificially sustained high results in a protracted, dangerous low. In addition, substance abuse—large amounts of alcohol and drugs, including barbiturates, cocaine, heroin, prescription painkillers and marijuana ingested into the body—severely damages the brain and the central nervous system. Mental and nervous breakdown is unavoidable for alcoholics and drug users. Generally, once the toxic substance is removed, the depression clears. Those suffering from toxic depression struggle with carrying out daily activities, most likely because of the substance abuse.
A third category is known as psychotic depression. Psychotic depression comes about as the result of brain disease or severe mental disorder. For example, a brain tumor can bring on psychotic depression. People experiencing psychotic depression are likely to experience hallucinations. Behavior can be wildly erratic. A person with psychotic depression can be uncontrollably crying one minute, then become ecstatically euphoric the next. Most people think all depression has the symptoms of the psychotic type. This is far from the truth. A lot of people work hard to hide their depression so as not to be thought of as psychotic wackos. This kind of vanity only makes the problem worse. It is far better to admit the problem and do something to correct it than to mask it. Most people with psychotic depression are generally hospitalized and often heavily medicated to prevent harm to themselves or to others.
A fourth category—the most prevalent today, and the most debilitating—is endogenous depression. Endogenous means “stemming from within.” This term is an apt description of a major depressive episode. Any one of the three previously discussed types of depression can develop into a major depressive episode if not put in check.
Most experts today call endogenous depression unipolar, as distinguished from bipolar depression. Bipolar depression includes a manic, or up cycle; some refer to it as a double cycle. Some experts believe the term “bipolar depression” is a misnomer since manic is not a depressed mental state. By contrast, there is no up cycle to endogenous depression. Generally always severe, endogenous depression operates in the deep recesses of the mind and emotions. It is crippling, causing its victims to experience futility, hopelessness, emptiness and lack of joy. Major depressive episodes are painful physically and mentally. Endogenous sufferers lose physical energy, making it extremely difficult to perform simple routine tasks. Personal hygiene—showering, shaving, laundering clothes—stops. A loss of appetite causes quick and extreme weight loss. Concentration and memory are impaired, making reading, rational thinking and right decision-making nearly impossible. Individuals experiencing a major depressive episode lose all self-esteem, carry continual guilt, and feel intense shame. Major depressive episodes stop highly creative and productive people in their tracks for months. It is not surprising that most people with endogenous depression lose their employment.
With endogenous depression, the central nervous system and endocrine glands stop functioning normally. Some glandular diseases cause depression. Diabetes, hypoglycemia and thyroid illnesses are well-known contributors. The brain and central nervous system need the right balance of nutrients and hormones to function properly. In studying depression, science is still working to uncover whether depression disrupts the endocrine system or if a disrupted endocrine system brings on depression. A key to answering this “chicken or egg” question is found within the advancing knowledge of how stress affects the body: Researchers are coming to understand that our highly stressed society is one of the leading causes of our physical and mental maladies.
Sadly, many endogenous depression sufferers extinguish their agony through suicide.
If all this sounds familiar to you, then you must see how serious your symptoms are and begin to identify the cause of your depression.
How Major Depression Starts
Humans have struggled with depression from our very beginning. As far back as the fifth century b.c., what we call depression was known as melancholia. Hippocrates is believed to have developed a biological theory of human personality known as humoral theory. Hippocrates held that one’s predominant body fluid gave rise to one’s temperament and character. Hippocrates believed that a person with a preponderance of black bile had a melancholy or sad temperament and character as well. At that time it was thought that people with a melancholic temperament were considered to carry an awful burden.
This ancient attempt to explain the mystery was a small step at understanding a complicated process. It is true that certain personalities are more susceptible to depression than others. Vulnerability to depression often depends on the kind of encouragement, values, self-esteem, love and support (or lack of it) that people received during their early childhood. Thankfully, we have come to better understand this dreadful problem. Although depressed feelings can come upon us for no apparent rational reason, in truth there is always a reason—whether physical, mental or spiritual.
For the most part, feeling blue or down begins in response to a specific loss, fear of loss, or adverse occurrence—being fired, losing a house, having a spouse die. Most people do not suffer a major depressive episode after such loss; in time, they recover. As the saying goes, time heals all wounds. There is a wealth of inspiring histories of people bravely overcoming devastating losses. These testify of the human spirit’s wonderfully strong ability to meet and overcome even the worst losses.
However, when endogenous depression strikes, pinpointing the specific loss is usually very difficult. A major depressive episode can develop suddenly or slowly. Since humans have the capacity for self-deception, our fears, anxieties, negative emotions, unmet needs and other emotional problems can be pushed far into the background—for years. Major depressive episodes can come as the result of a final straw pushing a person beyond their breaking point—the last of a series of unfortunate setbacks in life.
Unseen Spiritual Forces
The majority of people are completely blind to the fact that even the unconscious violation of God’s spiritual laws—the Ten Commandments, God’s means to guarantee human happiness—sets one up to experience mental, emotional and personal problems and negative attitudes. The Ten Commandments are in force just like the law of gravity. When we obey them, the result is peace of mind, inner joy and happiness. Yet if we break them, we become broken. We must face the reality that consciously doing things we know are wrong results in negative or depressed feelings.
Here is a point that few recognize. Unresolved anger, bitterness, envy or jealousy leads to feelings of loss. We must learn to conquer these self-destructive, sinful emotions. All of these are the bricks of the path that leads to depression. “Envy makes the bones rot,” warns the Bible (Proverbs 14:30; English Standard Version).
Although it is not socially acceptable to believe in evil spiritual forces—Satan the devil and his army of demons—they do exist, and they have made it their express goal to influence and disrupt the minds and attitudes of unsuspecting humans. Satan is the author of angelic and human sin. He is the most depressed being in the universe, and he desires for all humans to feel the same way he does. In Ephesians 2:2-3, the Apostle Paul calls Satan the “prince of the power of the air,” because this evil being broadcasts his negative attitudes of mind worldwide.
No wonder so many people don’t understand the negative attitudes and moods plaguing them. The Bible warns that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12; English Standard Version). Satan and the demons place damaging and negative moods in unwary minds. The sudden impulse to end your life comes directly from them.
The Way Out
Yes, you can escape depression, hopelessness and despair. How badly do you want to be free of depression? Honest medical doctors will tell you that no pill will cure you. Realize that depression is a symptom, an effect caused by either a mental, emotional, physical or even a serious spiritual problem in your life. There is a cause for your depression, and you must take the responsibility to uncover and eliminate that cause from your life. No one can do this for you. Your way out of depression can only come by you identifying, facing and conquering the cause of your depression.