Dr. Bill Gaultiere
Executive Director of New Hope
depressed since I was nine years old," Veronica lamented (not her
real name). "My mother was depressed when I was a child. It seemed
she was in a bad mood all the time. I never knew if I'd get a smile
or a slap.
took a severe turn for the worse a few years ago when I had a nervous
breakdown at work. At first I fought against going to the hospital
and taking medication, but then it came together for me: `This is
a biological illness. It's not my fault. I don't care what anybody
thinks. I want to be happy again. I'm going to get help.'
"I did get
help. I got the medical and therapeutic help I needed and I started
improving. I was getting my life back. I could sleep peacefully.
Food didn't taste like cardboard anymore. I could concentrate. I
could smile again!"
not alone. Depression is the most common complaint heard in doctor's
offices today. One in five women and one in ten men will at some
time in their lives be diagnosed with clinical depression. Many
more people become depressed at one time or another in their lives,
but aren't diagnosed. Some people are just too embarrassed to admit
that they are depressed. They may think that it's weak or bad or
sinful to feel depressed and therefore try to deny their feelings.
Others have asked for help and been disappointed and so they've
gone into hiding. And still others are so depressed that they can't
seem to muster up the energy to get the help they need; they don't
have any hope that they could ever feel better anyway.
Those who are
depressed need to feel better. Depression is serious. Left untreated
it is not only painful, but can be disabling and even life threatening
when it leads to a suicide attempt. Those who are depressed can
feel better. There is hope. Depression can be treated. Like Veronica,
those who are depressed can smile again, they can find the pep in
their step, they can feel love and peace and joy in their hearts.
As with any psychological or relational problem the first step to
getting help is diagnosis. You need to accept that you have a problem
and understand the nature of your struggle before you can get help.
People who are depressed have negative feelings and perceptions
about themselves, their life, and their future. They say or think
- "It doesn't
matter. Why try to do that? It won't work for me anyway."
- "I feel
really cares about me."
- "I'm a loser.
I just keep messing things up."
- "I don't
- "I'm caught
in a long, black tunnel, and there is no light at the end."
- "It's like
I'm trying to walk in mud. I can hardly put one foot in front
of the other."
are depressed also struggle with some of the following symptoms:
fatigue, general slowing down
- Loss of
appetite or weight gain
or sleeping too much
- Lack of
concern for personal appearance and hygiene
- Poor memory
over minor things
- Sudden tearfulness
to find pleasure in relationships, hobbies, or other activities
backaches, and other aches and pains
or Biological Depression?
Not all depressions are the same. The key distinction is identifying
whether the depression is reactive or biological. Veronica's depression
was biological. She had a family history of depression, had been
depressed a long time, and her functioning was severely impaired
by her depression. She was not only emotionally depressed she was
physically and biochemically depressed. She responded well to medication
and supportive therapy and has an active and full life today, volunteering
some of her free time to help other people who are depressed.
depression is different than a biological depression. It is a short-term
response to a stressful or painful life event. If you've had a loved
one die, been fired from your job, experienced a health problem,
or been hurt or disappointed in a relationship, then you probably
feel depressed. This is a normal and healthy response. When dealing
with these emotional heartaches we need a season to grieve. Talking
about our sadness with a friend or in a support group helps us to
heal. We need to be listened to. We need comfort. If, in this way,
we grieve and get support with a reactive depression then in time
we will feel better.
If you don't
get help when you start to feel depressed then your problem may
become more serious. Reactive depressions can become acutely overwhelming
or chronic and disabling if you don't get the help you need when
you're hurting. How does this happen? Consider Steve's story (not
his real name). When he was a six years old his parents divorced.
His father moved out of state and remarried, and then Steve only
saw him sporadically throughout his childhood. His mother remarried
when he was a teenager, but he was reticent to let this man fill
the role of step father.
Steve was still
depressed about losing his father when I met him in his thirties.
He had never grieved. Dad told him on the phone that "Big boys don't
cry." His mom was hurt and bitter about the divorce herself and
she just got upset whenever Steve tried to talk about it, so he
didn't feel safe sharing with her. Tragically, he spent 25 years
"pulling himself up by his bootstraps," denying his pain and his
needs for support, and trying to be strong and independent. His
strategy worked pretty well at work, but not in his relationships.
He wouldn't let anyone close to him. He was lonely, withdrawn, and
burdened with depression and low self-esteem. When I met him he
was having trouble getting out of bed to go into the office. His
depression had become physical. Fortunately, he finally did get
the help he needed by taking an anti-depressant and entering therapy,
where he worked through his unresolved grief over losing his dad
and his family unit and took some important steps to turn his life
Get Help for Depression
If you're depressed you can get help like Veronica and Steve did,
but you need to work at it. Change isn't easy, but is possible.
You can get help for your depression by working through the following
eight steps. Start by focusing on the one or two steps that you
most need to implement.
- Get medical
help. Consult with your doctor or a psychiatrist to see if
you need anti-depressant medication. If you're depression is biologically
based, or you have a severe and unresolved reactive depression,
then you need medication. Don't fight it get the help you need.
to trustworthy people. Talk to your friends, get involved
in a local church, find a support group, or consult with a pastor
or therapist. Don't stay isolated. You need other people in your
life to feel care, joy, and meaning.
your losses. Usually, people who are depressed are emotionally
blocked in some way. They have "ungrieved grief." Past losses
need to be grieved, whether the death of a loved one, the loss
of a job, a relational disappointment, childhood injuries, or
some other loss. Jesus described this process succinctly in his
beatitude, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
(Matthew 5:4). Indeed, to share your sadness with a trusted confidante
and to receive comfort is the blessing that in due time will heal
a reactive depression.
your anger to take better care of yourself. If you're depressed
then you probably have a problem with repressed anger. You may
have been violated, criticized, or hurt in the past and accepted
a judgment that you are of little value or are "eligible" to be
mistreated. The pain of these past injuries then gets perpetuated
if you misdirect your anger inward as self-criticism or let it
stagnate in a pool of resentment. Instead, you need to mobilize
your anger to take care of yourself. What does it mean to mobilize
your anger? To mobilize your anger is to get in touch with the
anger by feeling it and then harness the energy in that anger
and focus it in helpful ways. Let me offer some very brief examples.
through the situation with the person who hurt you to improve
your relationship today.
a letter you don't send or talk about the problem with a trusted
the person who wounded you and in situations similar to that
with others, be sure to set boundaries of protection or limits
on what you will and won't do.
on being proactive in meeting your needs by asking for what
you need in your relationships and by doing things that you
let go of your anger by entrusting justice to God. Tell God
how you feel and ask him to deal with the person who wronged
you and ask him to help you to forgive.
As the Apostle Paul taught us, "Instead, speaking the truth in
love, we will in all things grow up.... In your anger do not sin.
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (Eph 4:15,26).
Dealing with your anger in this manner will help to lift your
positively. People who are depressed struggle with negative
thinking. Low self-esteem, guilt, and hopelessness besiege them.
Don't give in to negativity. Discipline yourself to think positive
thoughts about yourself, your life, and your future. Meditate
on Bible verses that remind you of God's love for you, like Romans
8:1: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ
Jesus." (For more encouraging verses see my article, "God's Love,
Our Christmas Gift.")
- Do something
positive today. Do something good for yourself even if you
don't feel like it. Take a bubble bath while listening to your
favorite music. Go for a walk with a friend on the beach or at
a park. Write a letter to a friend. Smile to a stranger. Even
"little" things like these can make a big difference in how you
or write a psalm to God. Powerful, positive, healing possibilities
await us when we pray to God about our hurts and concerns. When
we go a step further and write our prayers out, like David did
in the Psalms, we tap into even greater potential help. In many
of his psalms David models a simple, effective format for praying
and writing out your concerns. Simply talk to God honestly about
what you're experiencing, ask him for what you need, and then
remind yourself of God's goodness and past provision for you as
you wait on him.
someone else who is need. Jesus promised, "It is more blessed
to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35b). Helping others helps
us. Veronica's story at the top of this article illustrates
this point. We all need to be needed, to feel significant and
to know that we are making a difference. When we help someone
we experience the joy of connecting and we learn and grow even
as we help.