Sunday, June 25, 2006


Depressed? That's not surprising. Depression is the common cold of mental illness. We call it that because everybody gets it from time to time and it is usually self-limiting; meaning, it goes away by itself with no treatment.

But if it doesn't? What if it lasts for two weeks, three weeks, or more? When is it time to get help? There are three areas of life that, if affected seriously, are your tripwires, your early warning signals, your wake-up calls.

1. Intimacy: if depression is affecting your closest relationships (spouse, children, parents, friends), if you are walling yourself off from them or driving them off, or if you have emotionally walled yourself from them.... get help.

2. Meaning: if you are questioning your value or standing as a human being; wondering if you are important or necessary, wondering if the world would even know you are gone.... get help.

3. Responsibility: if you are shirking your responsibilities around the house (parenting, upkeep, etc.) or at work... get help, especially if it continues for more than a couple weeks.

What kind of help should you get? Here is where it gets complicated. We are made up of three different components:

1. Structural: this is our DNA. This is our genetic inheritance, our bodies. Some forms of depression are genetic and can be passed onto our children (though not to all of them or even most of them). If your genetics are misfiring on you, you will need to get medical help. There is NO shame in that. Genetic faults are a reality we have to face in a world far removed from Eden.

2. Emotional: this includes our spiritual, metaphysical, and emotional makeup along with the complex matrix of our knowledge base and belief systems. This is the usual target of counseling. Everybody gets screwed up emotionally from time to time. Most of us make some adjustment to our knowledge base (learn something) or adjust our belief system and move along. Some pray or seek comfort in religious ritual until the crisis passes. If it doesn't pass, a professional can often help by supplying another viewpoint. To be fair, a community of trusted friends can often help just as well as a pro.

3. Chemical: this is not only the incredibly complex soup of chemicals in our system but also the foods we eat, the air we breathe, and what we drink. It is always a good idea to check your diet when you are depressed. Some depression (but not most, by far) can be linked to food allergies or a lack of B-complex vitamins or even to eating too much of the wrong food and too little of the right food. Usual things to jettison first are sugar, red wine, and white flour. To be fair, most people will need to add exercise and medication if their depression has a chemical cause.

Notice something? The chemicals can be bad because your genetics are making the wrong ones or not absorbing the right ones. So now your depression has two causes. But wait: "thinking" is accomplished by a myriad of chemicals and electrical impluses that can be caused by faulty belief systems, bad genetics, or lousy chemicals.


Here is the simple truth: when depression gets serious it is time to get help from someone who knows how it works. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in psychopharmacology. He is the only mental health expert who can prescribe medication. A Licensed Professional Counselor or psychotherapist (or Marriage and Family Counselor or a dozen other names) is the best choice for talk therapy. Talk therapy is effective when done right. Most psychiatrists don't have the time or talent for it, but counselors are experts at it.

There are others who counsel, too. Some of them are good and some are horrible. Some States allow anyone to call themselves a psychotherapist or healer or spiritual advisor, etc. Some States have no laws governing what a clergyman or clergywoman says or does. Buyer beware.

In every study done, those who got medical help AND talk therapy got better much, much faster than those who got just one of them. Second best? Talk therapy/counseling... but it was not a close second.

More on depression in further columns. Know this: depression is NOT a sin (though it can be caused by sin, guilt, or shame). Some of God's favorite people were depressed or suffered it many times in their lives including Job, David, Jeremiah, Elijah and Jesus. Yes, Jesus. Isaiah said he would be known as "a man of sorrows and well acquainted with our grief."

Sometimes being depressed is just proof that you are paying attention! When you STAY depressed after conditions change or time moves on, then get help. It isn't a sign of weakness. Getting help is a sign of wisdom.


At 6/26/2006 01:58:00 PM , Anonymous Annette said...

Wow, 16 hours and no other comments. I'm not real surprised, people who have never delt with depression get weirded out by the topic. It is amazing that it still carries such a such a stigma, especially amoung Christians. I was one of those too, I thought I had a "spiritual problem" and spoke to our preacher's wife (who happens to be a therapist.) When she suggested I was depressed and basically described back to me what my symptoms were, it was one of the greatest relief moments of my life!

Based on my treatment over the last 6 years, I will probably be on some medication for the rest of my life and will need talk therapy (I like that way of putting it!) from time to time. I've come to think of it as a chronic condition like's not going away but I can live with it if I continue to take care of myself. I am open about it in hopes that it will encourage others to seek help and see that there is life during/after depression. But again, it still surprises me how many people are weirded out by that. Or worse...people that obviously need therapy and medication and refuse to accept help because they think it is weak to do so, or that their faith alone can solve their problems. I thank God everyday for letting me live at a time when treatment is available, and not years ago when there was no treatment or worse- the treatment was sedation or electric shock!

Depression is the "thorn in my flesh." I wish it would go away, but it keeps me relying on God, and not my own judgement. I have grown more as a Christian since I have been diagnosed than before. I am more aware of what makes me tick and therefore can work theraputically and spiritually to change and grow.

Thanks Patrick, for shedding more light on the subject.

In Him,
Pitman C of C (see you soon!)
PS....regarding your previous 2 posts...I'm sorry people have been hurt by your comments, but I think the point you are really making is that even an offensive and cranky person can be transformed into a vessel God can use for good. And thank God for that, otherwise there wouldn't be a soul on this earth he could use!

At 6/26/2006 05:22:00 PM , Blogger That Girl said...

Thanks for talking about what people won't talk about. You'd get help for a physical illness - getting help for a mental one shouldn't be a bad thing

At 6/27/2006 12:42:00 PM , Blogger Jim MacKenzie said...

annette, you know, when something is written as well as this, when there's no comments for a while, most of us are just thinking: uh, yah, your right, Patrick. So, instead of writing that earlier, I just uttered it in my head. Now, it's out (twice): uh, yah, your right, Patrick. Right on.

At 6/27/2006 07:14:00 PM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

I'm just now commenting because we were gone for several days and I'm just now getting caught up a bit, but I agree with all you say, Patrick.

I have suffered from depression, at times and for a very long time very deeply to the point of being suicidal, for most of my life.

Like Annette has so poignantly said, those of us who suffer this insidious disease even as Christians, are sometimes made to feel it is some sort of inadequacy in us in our faith or spirituality. At least it was that way for me for a very long time.

I thank God that I was able in my darkest hours to (providentially, I'm convinced) find a Christian psychologist who worked with me for a very long time, and with my children later, as well (due to circumstances in our dysfunctional family with their father, who I will not comment about any further), to help me and my sons and daughter come to a place of wholeness as much as possible.

God has sustained me greatly through my life and as I've gotten older I've suffered much less from depression's destructive forces through newer medications and the deep and abiding love of my husband, Tom, who God brought into my life a long time ago now (again, I am fully convinced, providentially because God knew of my need for Tom's love).

My children are all adults and doing well in their lives, for which I am ever grateful to God as well.

Your words in this post are greatly needed. I hope those who read them who suffer from any kind of depression will be encouraged to seek professional help. It can make all the difference in the world. For me, I think, it made the difference between life and death and my life since those times has been much richer and fuller than I ever could have imaginged before.

Thanks, Patrick.

At 6/29/2006 08:18:00 PM , Blogger J. Kevin Parker said...

Wow, this was good to read. I will try to make an appointment with my counselor tomorrow. No, I'm not kidding--I was going to anyway, but kinda put it off...

My wife and I have had a really tough time of it lately, especially, but we have a great Christian counselor who himself was a minister and went through some tough times like we have--his insight is so refreshing. Now that we are starting to see God's direction more clearly, we see the fog lifting. But it's still important that we talk this through with our counselor/friend.

At 6/30/2006 02:26:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've thought for a while I could use some help, and a friend far away who used to be a counselor has suggested it. I've looked in the local yellow pages for someone and not found anyone, though. Online searches find Christian counselors an hour away... I have children at home and no friends locally to watch them. So I wait...

At 6/30/2006 05:39:00 PM , Anonymous TinaMarie said...

It is encouraging to hear others share their struggle with depression. I had thought I had mine dealt with when I got counseling and medication about 15 years ago. I was doing well until about 5 years ago my mom died and as the oldest I held all things together for everyone. Did my best to help me dad in his depression after mom was gone until he passed a year ago. My life is finally getting back to "normal" and it dawns on me why I am tired and weary. Everywhere I've been turning I have seen things talking about depression. This time in my life the people around me are so much more encouraging and they accept the situation. The first time I dealt with depression I was told that my problem was that I did not have the Holy Spirit working in my life. It is so encouraging to see that even in the church people are slowly becoming aware of the fact that there are times that God wants to use the medical world. He create all those who have discovered what we know in the medical field, so why wouldn't he want to use many of the good things developed.

At 7/01/2006 01:44:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Anonymous -- call all area churches and ask them who they use for counseling (professional, clergy, or peer). Get in touch with the AACC ( and get recommendations from them. While it is great to have someone with an advanced degree, State licensure, and association membership remember that some churches are blessed with having an individual who is gifted in counseling without any of the trappings. One of the best therapists I ever met had only a high school education -- and the Spirit.


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