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.