Describing Depression: An Experienced Voice

photo-1453574503519-1ae2536262ec_optAfter studying depression for three months, Christian filmmaker Ray Comfort thinks he understands the subject. After his research, he made a movie about suicide, called Exit, which is available on his website for $20. Yesterday, he told David Barton on Wallbuilders Live that after awhile the movie would be free on YouTube.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but judging from the interview, I have to question how well he understands depression.
Yesterday, I reviewed the Wallbuilders interview and found the advice offered by Barton and Comfort to be unhelpful and possibly harmful for some. For his part, David Barton said the culture promotes depression via acceptance of abortion and homosexuality. He added:

We’re promoting things that cause it we’re now saying, “Well, depression is fine therefore suicide is fine.”

I never heard anybody say that until Barton said it on his program.

Later in the interview Comfort seemed to blame lack of religious belief as a catalyst for depression. I intend to review the movie after I watch it.

What was missing in their discussion was any recognition that depression is a medical problem with a biological foundation. If anything, listeners could easily come away from that interview thinking that depression could be cured by having an evangelical belief system. Experience tells us that is not true.

Describing Depression

Depression as a concept is hard to pin down. What makes the subject difficult to grasp is that mood naturally flows between highs and lows. Sometimes are moods are depressed for no reason, but other times, there are negative circumstances which are hard to accept which gives rise to depression. Thinking through things rationally and with a long view can help to overcome those rough spots. However, suicidal thinking is most associated with chronic depression which is not a bad day or triggered by negative circumstances. This the more complex medical situation which Comfort and the Bartons don’t seem to grasp.

As I was reflecting on the Comfort interview and preparing to watch Exit, I came across the writings of a friend who experiences depression. I have permission from my anonymous friend to reproduce them here. I think they reflect and describe what it is to feel this kind of depression.

Occasionally, bouts of depression are triggered by obvious catalysts, like losing a job or loved one or some kind of overt trauma. Often, though, nothing is “wrong”. We’re not upset or sad or angry or stressed about anything particular, but our body is deploying hormones as though we’re being attacked.
It is these episodes that are most frustrating to the friends and family of people who have depression; they don’t know what to do to help because there’s seemingly nothing wrong. The victims of those moments find it doubly frustrating, as a silent, crushing dread slowly bears down on our souls, challenging us to find a name for it.

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken,” especially when there’s no obvious reason why or easy descriptors available.*

I don’t know what to do about these moments, how to describe them, or how to trace their causes. And while I can sometimes learn about them when my depression is on vacation, I’ve yet to overcome the moratorium on research it imposes when it’s at work full time.

But I know this: depression is a liar. It whispers that the world is uniquely bad in general and uniquely bad for me in particular. It tells me that the comfort of friends and annoyance of acquaintances are reinforcing, not alleviating, my problems. It inspires coping mechanisms like over sleeping, over eating, substance abuse, or other self-destructive behaviors that rob life of its joy. Depression only looks out for itself, and it lies to you to keep itself safe.

I don’t know what to do about it, and I can’t always find the energy to fight back. But depression is a liar, and it blinds me to what’s really true, noble, excellent, and praiseworthy. It’s hard, but I’m learning slowly not to fall for the lies, to hunt for companionship when I feel most lonely, and to know that what I’m feeling isn’t unique, even if I can’t describe it.

I can’t teach you anything about my depression, and I certainly don’t know anything about what you might be feeling. But we could all use a hand in the dark, particularly when there are so many cheap people offering cheap solutions to expensive problems. If you have a hand to offer, I’m sure you know someone who needs it, and if you need to take my hand, I’ll try to offer it when I’m able.

Our task is to make the whole world our hospital, to provide for the sick and bind up the wounds other people might have. Depressed people don’t know their treatment options or the extent of their diagnosis, but each of us can offer a small glimpse of healing to those who are most ill. I have nothing but thanks for those who have been my doctors, and I hope some day to repay the kindness.

Thanks to my anonymous friend for sharing these thoughts.
For depressed people, it doesn’t help to shame them because they have different beliefs or doubt God. What helps is what my friend describes: medical care, companionship, and a kind hand in the darkness.

*Inspired by C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.