Depression is generally caused by getting what we don’t want or not getting what what we do want. One of the most depressing situations is to be caught in a catch 22, in which you are boxed into a situation that abuses you no matter what you choose to do.
Depression calls into question the perceptions of our transcendent purpose in the scheme of life. Existence without a sense of direction will automatically lead to the potential for depression. Also having a sense of direction that leads nowhere results in depression. Depression can be mellow or dysthymic. Dysthymia is a chronic negativity, indecisiveness, and the feeling that life is devoid of meaning.
There are many things that might cause us to be depressed: Seeking a mate that is not compatible, getting involved in get-rich-quick plans, gambling, allowing temper fits to cause us to lose control, blinding ourselves to our own limitations, seeking dominion over others, being unforgiving, hating others, allowing addictions to control us, participating in self-pity.
Additionally, there is the realization that our economy (personal economy, national economy and world economy) is never going to be what it once was. We need to cope with both the ups and the downs of our life, regardless of whether we had an active hand in receiving the problems that have been dealt to us. It is important to be ready for the extremes that are unavoidable.
It is important that we know what our human limitations are. If we are depressed we need to acknowledge it, not deny it. Once we acknowledge it, we need to identify what barriers exist to a reasonable solution. The least intrusive solution is almost always the best solution. That is, the solution that involves the least amount of help from others is the best solution. Treating the cause, instead of the effect, is always a better solution.
There are two fundamental types of depression: systemic depression and circumstantial depression. Systemic depression is generally more serious than circumstantial depression and may require help from others.
Circumstantial depression involves depression that has a particular cause that is the source of the depression. For example, loss of a job might logically cause depression. Divorce may logically cause depression. Pain for long periods of time may logically cause depression. Grief over the loss of someone close can cause intense depression. In cases of circumstantial depression it is usually helpful to focus on the cause and see if a solution can be brought about as a result of making changes. In the case of a loss of a job, the obvious solution is to get a job. If jobs are difficult to get you may need to make a job out of getting a job. And, of course, going though the process can cause, at times, even more depression. And, in an economy like the present one, we may have to, at times, realize joblessness as a long-term reality.
Systemic depression is the most serious form of depression because there is usually no obvious cause to focus upon. This depression could be so severe that other people may need to help with the problem. Unfortunately, people in this condition tend to have the attitude of “leave me alone” and would rather isolate themselves. What can we do if we have this type of depression? We need to acknowledge we have the problem. That is a first step in solving the problem. Next, we may have to realize that the solution may require that other people assist us. A parent, a mate, a trusted friend or a relative might be able to provide help and guidance. Or a counselor, psychologist, or behaviorist may be able to help.
In this age of instant solutions, many will be too willing to turn to drugs to solve the problem. In some cases, drugs may be the solution, especially in the case of self-destructive behavior. After all, it’s better to take a drug than to kill yourself. However, for most, it is better to try options that are the least intrusive. For example, St. John’s Wort is an herb that is a natural SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor). After taking this herb for at least 3 weeks, many people see that they are relieved of the feeling of depression. And there is the added benefit of having none of the awful side effects of drugs. There is also the benefit of not having to play a game of “may I?” with your doctor. St. John’s Wort requires no prescription.
Getting rid of depression can be a challenge. It may be necessary to try a variety of solutions before settling on one that works. During this time it is necessary to be careful to associate with trustworthy individuals who can be supportive of efforts to get free from depression. Friends or relatives who laugh about depression or trivialize depression have the potential to make the depression worse.
Depression is not the opposite of happiness; it is the absence of happiness. Every moment we are depressed has the potential to drag down portions of what should be an abundant life filled with purpose. If we fail to plan, for the most part, we plan to fail. Without a plan, it is generally difficult or impossible to extinguish depression.
Exercise is an important part of our well-being, both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, in today’s society many have forgotten how useful exercise can be in extinguishing depression. In college, in Miami, I was enrolled in a program called Life Lab. In it I learned about a young man who had decided he was so depressed there was nothing left to do but kill himself. However, he knew there was a shame associated with suicide. So, he determined that he would kill himself in a way that would not be detected as suicide. He decided he would run himself to death. That way, he reasoned, someone would see him dead by the side of the road after a long run and figure he just had a heart attack due to over exertion. He was fairly out of shape physically, having devoted his time to studying at the university. So, everyday he ran as far as he could until he would be so weak he couldn’t stand up. After several days of running he realized he didn’t really want to kill himself after all. His exercising became the beginning of his plan of success in extinguishing depression. Exercise causes the endorphins to kick in, reducing pain and neutralizing depression.
Sunlight is an important part of combating depression. Many people are unaware of it because the activities that keep people inside are, many times, the activities that cause them to focus on the problems that have caused the depression in the first place. In the 1970’s there were two psychologists in downtown New York City who would request that their new clients walk around the block as their first step in the treatment of their depression. Some would refuse to do it. At that point they (the psychologists) would refuse to accept them as clients. Sunshine is very important. After you take a bath and dry off, you feel refreshed. It takes an effort to take time to take a bath. But, once you do it, you are glad you did it and you feel better. The same is true of sunshine. When you take the time to walk in the sunshine you almost always feel better.
Taking time for yourself is important. Married couples who have young children should help each other to have times of solitude, times to reflect on their lives. On the other hand, we need to take time to interact with others, particularly our mates, our families, our friends. We need to network with trusted individuals who can be supportive of our plan. It is necessary to avoid friends who are not really friends, those who would laugh at the problem or trivialize it. It is necessary to avoid people who will try to draw connections where no such connections exist. Job’s friends were a good example of this. They tried to make the connection that he had to be an evil person in order to suffer the negatives in his life. Job’s denial of this only caused them to be unrelenting in their attempts at problem analysis. There are times when God directly punishes someone for their bad behavior. However, most of the time, He just leaves us alone to learn from trial and error and experience.
Anyone seeking help from professionals (counselors, psychologists, behaviorists) should be sure to ask if they have worked with depressed people before and how much experience they have had. It is important to select someone who has the proper experience and a positive and fast-working agenda to re-gain functioning appropriately in a short length of time.
It is a good idea to stop and think about all the good things in your life. It’s not really that difficult. It’s mainly a matter of incorporating this routine in productive thought patterns. Some of the world’s greatest leaders (Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, etc.) had problems of chronic depression. But they had a plan and they were aware of a transcendent purpose in their lives. Had they not succeeded in extinguishing their depression, the history of the world would have been very different.
Severe depression is a problem that is on the rise in today’s world, particularly among the young. The behavioral extinction of serious depression is, for the most part, an activity that is not understood by most because, when most cases of depression become severe, insight into the underlying cause is generally lost sight of.
What is the underlying cause? For most, the underlying cause of severe depression is a generic form of borderline personality. The classic borderline personality, as outlined in the DSM-4 (psychiatrist’s manual), is a fixation on someone to the extent that there is a fear of being left alone, a fear of being abandoned. However, the generic form of borderline personality is a much more universal form. It is not even listed in the DSM. In fact, it could be said that people who have a generic form of borderline personality may be considered terminally sane. Why? It’s because it is so universal in our modern world, especially in the western world. In our society, you can have a fixation on a mate, a car, a house, a hobby, a career, or anything that is time consuming, and generally no one is going to call you on that game because only you know if you are inordinately focused on something to the extent that you have set your hopes on something that can be taken from you.
The solution in simple terms is as follows: “Therefore don’t be troubled, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, With what will we be clothed?” (Matthew 6:31). “But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). We should all be seeking the coming kingdom of God, the whole point of our existence. We should seek His (God’s) righteousness. Many forget about the second part.
The word “righteousness” is from the Greek “dikaiosune”, meaning the condition acceptable to God –or– rightness and correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting. This is a major key to peace of mind.
What is righteousness? As one example, the parents of John the Baptist were considered righteous because they walked in all the commandments (Luke 1:6). What commandments? The Ten Commandments – the law of God.
Righteousness, keeping of the Ten Commandments, keeping the law of God generally results in peace of mind. “Great peace have they who love your law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalms 119:165). Peace of mind should be our top priority.
Wily Elder, CBA, CMI
Remember: Every second that passes is simply another chance to turn it all around.
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