Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Christian and Depression, Part IV

As we continue to discuss Bible believing Christians who suffer from Major Clinical Depression, we should take some time to look at some of the myths and misconceptions that surround the disease, both among the general public, and among  Christians themselves. Major Depression has been called "the common cold of mental illness," because it affects so many people, and yet it remains a mystery to many people - - - and, to some Christians, not a "disease" at all.

In our most recent post on the subject, we talked about the symptoms of Depression, and what makes it different from simply a temporary case of the "blues" or a "melancholy personality." We listed the symptoms found in the "DSM-IV," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.  And we emphasized, as we've done throughout this series, that you're probably not suffering from the disease: it only affects about 9.5% of the American population.  You're probably in the other 90.5%, and we don't want to plant any ideas in your head!  Everyone is "depressed" and sad at times; that's normal, and not what this series is talking about.

Well, if we know a little bit more about the disease now than we did at the start of this series, let's consider some of the misunderstandings that people have.  We will pay particular attention to ways in which other Christians, who have been saved according to John 1:12, view the disease, and some of the mistaken assumptions they make.  People (Christians or not) who misunderstand Depression aren't stupid or wicked; they usually have very good intentions, but they simply don't have all the facts.

In the most recent post, we didn't hesitate to quote the mental health professionals.  In this post, we'll also be referring to the words of Christian pastors and others, because, as we've continually noted, the disease needs to be approached from both sides: the medical, and the spiritual.  We need all the information we can get - - - but we don't need myths.  What are the myths concerning the disease of Depression?

1.  It's not a disease at all.  This might be the most common myth about Depression: that it's really not a physical problem, but just "weakness" or "self-pity" or general gloominess.  But, as we saw in the first post, that's simply not true.  Major or Clinical Depression (the terms are synonymous, as we've said) is a specific physical problem: specifically, a chemical problem in the brain. (Very specifically, it's the premature re-uptake of serotonin neurotransmitters.)  It can be treated with medications and other therapies.  And these medications aren't "happy pills;" they don't elevate your mood or make you euphoric or "dreamy," like some tranquilizers do.  In fact, if you're not suffering from the disease, they won't have any effect on you at all. They won't change anything, because, in your case, there's nothing to change.  But they'll help someone whose brain chemistry is faulty.  (I've been treated for the disease for over twenty years; in that time, more than one person has scoffed, "It's all in your head!"  To which I reply, with Christian charity, "Yes, you dummy, of course it's in my head: that's where I keep my brain!")  Depression is a disease like any other.

2.  You just need to snap out of it.  You need will power. Believe me, people suffering from Depression would like nothing more than to "snap out of it."  But they can't, any more than they could "snap out of" pneumonia or heart disease.  It's a physical problem.  As far as will power is concerned, that's one of the problems with Depression: it saps you of your will power, and makes it difficult to do almost anything.  By the way, if you're a Christian who thinks that "will power" is the answer, you need to get into your Bible.  God is not impressed with people who engage in "will worship" (Colossians 2:20-23). Check your attitude, tough guy.

3.  Depression is a symptom of demonic possession.  Obviously, this one is propagated by some Christians themselves, or people from other religions who believe in demons. (I believe in them too, although the Biblical term is "devils" or "unclean spirits;" so did Jesus and the Apostles.  They spoke to demons directly: if demons weren't real, Jesus and the disciples were crazy.) But Major Clinical Depression is a medical problem, not a spiritual one. Let's hear the words of one of the greatest Bible teachers alive, commenting on Luke 9:37-42, about Jesus curing a boy who was possessed:  "The companion passage in Mtt. 17:15 says that the boy was a 'lunatick,' literally meaning ‘moonstruck.’ .... This means that some mental problems have a spiritual cause that cannot successfully be treated by drugs or therapy.  The view of the Catholic Church in the Dark Ages was that all mental problems were caused by demons; the modern view is that all mental problems are physical or psychological in nature. The fact is that neither one is true.  Matthew 4:24 distinguishes between lunatics who are demon-possessed and those which are merely lunatic (‘those who were possed with devils, and those which were lunatick’).  Some mental illness is the result of physical ailments, chemical imbalances in the brain, traumatic experiences, etc., while others are the result of sin where a door had been opened in a person's mind for Satan to have free course.  You treat a physical problem physically, and you treat a spiritual problem spiritually. The secret is finding out which is which." (Dr. Peter S. Ruckman, The Bible Believer's Commentary on Luke, p. 325;  2013, Pensacola, Florida, BB Bookstore)
(Obviously, this myth is still taught, loudly and constantly, by the Charismatic "faith healers" such as Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and all the other false prophets and professional liars who are such a disgrace to Biblical Christianity.  Anyone who owns a television set knows the sort of scoundrels I'm talking about. They're worse than snake-handlers; snake-handlers harm only themselves, and, in their ignorance, are at least sincere.  That's more than can be said for the "faith healers.")

4.  If a parent or grandparent suffered from Depression, you will, too.  No, statistically speaking, you probably won't.  Although there is a genetic component which can, perhaps, be inherited, there is only a ten to fifteen percent likelihood that the disease will reappear in children or grandchildren.  Recent studies, by the way, have called even this into question, and claimed that Major Clinical Depression might never be"inherited."  This is a source of current dispute within the mental health community.

5.  Talking about Depression only makes it worse. This is not only untrue, but dangerous.  People suffering from Depression tend to withdraw from others and "isolate" anyway; they shouldn't be encouraged to "shut up about it."  They need the support and understanding of family and friends, of pastors, and of professionals.  "Not talking about it" can, ultimately, lead to suicide.  This myth is similar to the remark, "Oh, that person is just looking for attention."  In fact, that person needs attention, and compassion.  

6.  If you're saved, the Holy Spirit can "fix" your Depression.  You don't need a doctor.  Go to God for help, instead!  Yes, the Holy Spirit can indeed heal any disease, instantly, if that is His will, and sometimes He does.  But, since you've so piously advised us to "go to God," that's just what we'll do.  What did Jesus Christ have to say about it?  We've quoted Him in preceding posts: And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick (Luke 5:31).  Jesus said that sick people need doctors.  That's your Saviour speaking, brother or sister: do you want to argue with Him?

7.  It'll go away by itself.  No, it won't.  However, there may be times when the symptoms seem to go away for a period of months or years; I don't think the professionals call this "remission," but that's what I call it.  I've experienced it myself: all of the symptoms disappeared for a period of three years, which, oddly, were three of the most stressful years of my life.  But they came back, and that's the usual pattern.  Depression may move into the shadows for awhile, but, unless treated, it'll return.

 8.  If you have Depression, you'll always have it.  This is the converse of the previous myth.  Although Depression is unlikely to simply go away and never come back, it can be successfully treated.  The word "cure" is a very tricky term, and I won't use it; but proper treatment can result in a successful recovery.  This is especially true when the medical and spiritual aspects are both treated.  If you're suffering from Depression at 35, it's not graven in stone that you'll still be suffering at 65.  There's hope!

9.  Antidepressant drugs make you a zombie.  They take away your personality. The truth is more nearly the opposite.  As noted above, antidepressant drugs, once properly prescribed (not every drug works for every person), return you to your "normal" personality; they enable you to function as yourself again.  We're not talking about Lithium, which is used for Manic Depression; we're talking about the drugs used for Major Clinical Depression.  And, by the way: it is not true that, once you've started taking antidepressants, you'll have to take them for the rest of your life.  It's not like a diabetic's insulin.  Eventually, sooner or later, it's likely that your doctor will discontinue the drugs, when you don't need them any more.  But only the doctor, not the patient, can make that determination.

 10.  People with Depression are "losers."  They can't handle life. If that's true, then God give us more "losers!"  The "Prince of Preachers," Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was almost certainly a depressive.  Winston Churchill was a Depressive; he referred to Depression as his "black dog." Historians guess that Founding Father John Adams was Depressive.  If you're impressed with scientists, such people as Stephen Hawking and astronaut Buzz Aldrin are Depressive.  The roll call of artists, authors, and heroes of the Christian faith who were probably Depressive is too long to list.  If you have Major Clinical Depression, you're not a loser; you've simply got an illness.

There are many more myths about Depression, but these are some of the most common.  I hope this post has shed some light on them for you.  

In future posts, we'll discuss therapies for Depression.  Is medication alone the answer?  What about "talk therapy?"  Does physical exercise have a part to play?  We'll see.

In the meantime, be encouraged!  If you're a Christian with Major Clinical Depression, God has entrusted you with a thorn in the flesh, just as He did Paul.  (I'm not saying that Paul was Depressive!) He chose not to take Paul's thorn away ... but He's taken away the thorns of countless other Christians.  Just remember: whether your brethren understand you or not, and whether you understand yourself or not, God understands you - - - and He's not finished with you yet!

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). 

What a Saviour!  What a Comforter!  How can you lose?

1 comment:

  1. I found some amusement in point 1, at the end of the paragraph, and Dr. Ruckman's quote in point 3 is bang on. I can attest to the truth of points 7 and 8 from personal experience.

    This is another very informative post and I'm looking forward to the next in the series!