ON SPIRITUALITY AND ETHICS
“The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and
abounding in steadfast love.”
Are you depressed? Do you know someone experiencing depression?
Actually, depression is far more common than most people realize. Up to one in five people have clinical depression at least once in their lives. Those suffering from depression often do not recognize it—they may dismiss their decreased mood and energy as simply the way life is.
As best I can tell, I suffered from a mild chronic depression (dysthymia) beginning about age eight—but depression was not diagnosed until I was 38. Ironically, supervisors and colleagues did not recognize my symptoms even though I was counseling patients as a Chaplain Intern at a psychiatric hospital.
A depressed person often needs a friend or family member to spot the symptoms and suggest talking with their doctor. “Couch potatoes” often have chronic depression—but instead of treatment they may receive ridicule. Many alcoholics and drug and food addicts suffer from depression, using self-defeating substances to medicate their pain. Others experience acute depression when stress increases, as with the death of a family member or loss of a job.
Depression results in lack of energy as well as sadness. Other symptoms may include weight gain or loss, trouble sleeping, irritability or restlessness, a chronic sense of shame, unrelieved guilt, persistent negative thoughts and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
Take a moment and consider: Who do you know who may be depressed? By sharing your concern with them or their family members, you may plant a seed that—sooner or later—brings a significant improvement in their health.
Many people resist treatment. They may not like being treated for a “mental illness.” Depression is actually a physical ailment that affects (as with many physical ailments) a person’s mental agility. Though intelligence is usually unaffected, the brain chemistry of a depressed person functions differently than that of a person without depression.
Several treatment options aid in recovery. Exercise is essential. Studies demonstrate that a reasonably active exercise routine can be as effective as antidepressant medication. Nutrition that avoids or limits the highs and lows from sugar and caffeine is important. Cognitive therapy assists a person to combat the negative thoughts that contribute to the downward spiral of depression. Group therapy can connect with others experiencing similar difficulties, while individual counseling with a clinically-trained therapist can be a godsend.
For eight years, I have been free of depression with no need for medication. However, symptoms returned in recent weeks due to acute stress. So I have enrolled myself in “boot camp”: I have structured time for morning meditation and my favorite exercise—fast walks in Roger Williams Park. I hold myself accountable for the use of my work time with a friend. I also meet monthly with a counselor to get coaching on how to improve nutrition, use my time well and pursue my career interests.
Some people are reluctant to take medication. I am not. I discovered years ago that Paxil is excellent for improving my mood and energy so, with the onset of symptoms, I am taking Paxil once again. I will continue until my lifestyle is healthier and I no longer need it.
Some who suffer from severe depression may need treatment the rest of their lives. It can take time to find the most effective medication (I previously received some help from Prozac, Zoloft and Wellbutrin, but not enough to maintain these meds). The benefits of the right medication can be tremendous. I have seen miraculous turnarounds in people suffering from depression—including myself.
Finally, depression affects the spirit as well as the mind and body. When depressed, we need to be kind to ourselves, forgive ourselves when we lapse into malaise, and encourage ourselves with thoughts of what we can accomplish as we take one step at a time. If God empowers us through grace, who are we to disagree with God’s abundant and steadfast love?
©2008 Harry Rix. All rights reserved.