When Depression Wins
Originally published August 11, 2014
I just received news about two hours ago that the famous actor Robin Williams has died in what looks to be a suicide. This has not been confirmed. Williams has been suffering from severe depression of late according to reports. I am not able to write about this tomorrow because of a project, but as a two-time survivor of severe depression, I would like to write a short essay on this before I turn in.
I would not wish severe depression on anyone, not even the most brutal of terrorists like the ones wreaking havoc in Iraq right now—that should put it in perspective for you. Serious depression is one of those experiences that you really have to experience to understand. The tragic news about Williams should turn our attention to those who may come our way. Can we help them? We most certainly can. Please, don’t just talk about this problem and move on. And, I don’t care how great you think the guy was—why does that matter now? While eulogies abound to show people how caring we are, conspicuously absent are questions about the problem itself.
And Williams forgot something: he wasn’t just fighting for himself—his loss does not give hope to others in his shoes.
There is a lot for Christians to learn about this problem, but unfortunately, the present-day church believes sanctification is pretty much the same thing as justification and depression is definitely a sanctification issue. No, preaching the gospel to yourself will not end the depression. No, prayer alone will not end depression; God cares, but you have to participate in the cure.
I wish I could refer people someplace, but I really can’t. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, the biblical counseling movement was having great success in helping people with severe depression, but the fundamentals that drove that counseling have been discredited as “not vertical enough.” As far as finding a counselor, sorry to say, you are on your own, but I can share with you what I have learned about this very serious problem.
1. If you have lost interest in everything that gives you joy, feel like you are losing your mind, and are harassed and tormented by horrible thoughts, seek medical help as soon as possible. Depression can be caused by several different medical conditions and bad reactions to certain medications.
2. Be open to encouragement and help from non-Christians. Non-believers and Christians both played an important role in my recovery.
3. Though depression can be a medical problem, in most cases depression becomes a medical problem because of a person’s outlook on life. Specifically, wrongheaded thinking. I have no doubt at all, that depression is caused from chemical imbalance, but the question is, “Can one’s thinking and outlook on life cause those imbalances?” I think the answer is, “yes.”
4. If you struggle with anxiety problems, get the problem under control—anxiety can lead to severe depression.
5. Deal with guilt and relationship problems with others.
6. You are probably going to need medications to get you through the toughest part of your depression while you work on personal issues. Some doctors will say that you will need these medications for the rest of your life, but I know of many situations where this is not the case at all, including my own.
7. Put yourself under the care of a medical doctor and a good counselor. Do not isolate yourself, even if you feel like doing so. It will be necessary to do certain things whether you feel like it or not. Seek out friends that understand your problem.
8. Remember that thoughts invoke feelings and feelings invoke thoughts. Don’t think thoughts that make you feel bad for no good reason. When feelings invoke thoughts, talk back to them. Have a conversation with your thoughts. For me, when oppressed by horrible thoughts, I prayed a lot. Yes, find promises in the Bible and cling to them—by all means. Those horrible thoughts and bad feelings sure do make a strong case that you are helpless against them, but I do not think that is the case. Fight to think other thoughts by getting your mind on something else. Do not leave the thoughts unchallenged. One must ask when he considers what these loud, strong feelings are saying…
“are they telling the truth?”
9. Feelings are VERY important to life, but during a time of severe depression, feelings are your worst enemy. You must temporarily make feelings a lower priority during this time. Whether you feel like it or not, be other-person focused. Whether you feel like it or not, accomplish things. With the help of medications, you can stay productive, and this is important. Right feelings follow right doing, and especially right thinking.
10. This post may help: http://wp.me/pmd7S-Eu
We have much to learn about depression. Suicide is tragic for many reasons, but if people who feel like they are at the end of their rope would just wait one more day, in many cases a new day brings a totally different perspective. I am going to leave you with something very simple if you are a depressed person reading this. In the midst of my struggle, a man who had been through depression himself smiled at me and said, “You are going to be alright.” Oddly, if someone ambushed me with the question, “Right now, name the one thing that was most important in your recovery,” without even thinking about it, I would have to point to that one instance. I would add that life is worth fighting for. I would add that you need to fight because your family wants you to; fight to love them more than you hate your suffering. Win the fight for them. My friend, our great God assures us that trials are only for a time. Death will come soon enough…fight for the joy that will return. When depression wins, hope loses, and the world needs nothing more than hope. And…
“you are going to be alright.”