Winning the Fight Against Depression
“BY SKILLFUL direction you will carry on your war,” states Proverbs 24:6. Skill, not just good intentions, is needed to win a battle. Certainly, if depressed, you do not want inadvertently to cause yourself to feel worse. For instance, a 1984 study of depressed persons found that some tried to cope with their depression by ‘taking anger out on other people, reducing tension by drinking more, eating more, and taking more tranquilizing drugs.’ The result: “more depression and physical symptoms.”
Some depressed persons fail to seek skillful direction because of their fear of being viewed as mentally weak. Yet, major depression is a sign neither of mental weakness nor of spiritual failure. Research indicates that this severe disorder may exist when there is a certain chemical malfunction in the brain. Since a physical illness may cause this, if you have been severely depressed for longer than two weeks, a medical examination may be advisable. If no physical illness is found to be contributing to the problem, often the disorder can be improved by adjusting the thinking pattern along with some help from appropriate medication or nutrients.* Winning the fight against depression does not mean that you will never have a depressed mood again. Sadness is a part of life. Yet, skillfully directing your blows will help you deal with depression better.
A doctor will often prescribe antidepressants. These are drugs designed to clear up the chemical imbalance. Elizabeth, mentioned earlier, used these, and within weeks her mood began to improve. “Still, I had to cultivate a positive attitude to work along with the drugs,” she said. “With the ‘push’ from the medicine, I was determined to get well. I also maintained a daily exercise program.”
However, the use of antidepressants is not always successful. There are also troublesome side effects for some. And even if the chemical malfunction is corrected, unless one’s thinking is corrected, the depression may return. Much relief, however, can come by being willing to . . .
Open Up Your Feelings
Sarah deeply resented the one-sided load of family responsibilities that she carried, as well as the pressures of a secular job. (See page 7.) “But I just stuffed my feelings inside me,” explained Sarah. “Then one night when I felt so hopeless, I phoned my younger sister, and for the first time in my life, I began to pour out my feelings. This was a turning point, as that call brought such relief.”
So, if depressed, seek out an empathetic person in whom you can confide. This one may be a marriage mate, close friend, relative, minister, doctor, or trained counselor. One of the essentials in defeating depression, according to a study reported in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, is “having a support helper available with whom to share the tribulations of life.”
Putting your feelings into words is a healing process that prevents your mind from trying to deny the reality of the problem or loss and, hence, leaving this unresolved. But open up your real feelings. Don’t allow a sense of false pride, wanting to have an undaunted-by-adversity appearance, to inhibit you. “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down, but the good word is what makes it rejoice,” states Proverbs 12:25. Yet, only by opening up can others begin to understand your “anxious care” and thus give that “good word” of encouragement.
“I just wanted sympathy when I called my sister, but I got a lot more,” recalled Sarah. “She helped me to see where my thinking was wrong. She told me that I was putting too much responsibility on myself. Though at first I didn’t want to hear this, when I began to apply her counsel, I could sense that a huge load began to be lifted.” How true are the words of Proverbs 27:9: “Oil and incense are what make the heart rejoice, also the sweetness of one’s companion due to the counsel of the soul.”
There is sweetness in having a friend or a mate who talks frankly and helps you to put things in proper perspective. This may help you to focus on just one problem at a time. So rather than becoming defensive, cherish such “skillful direction.” You may need someone who, after several conversations, can offer some short-term goals that will indicate steps you can take to change or modify your situation so as to reduce or eliminate the source of the emotional strain.*
Fighting depression often requires contending with feelings of low self-esteem. How can these be skillfully resisted?
Fighting Low Self-Esteem
For instance, Maria, as the preceding article shows, became depressed after conflicts within her family. She concluded: ‘I am a terrible person and can’t do anything right.’ This was wrong. If she had just analyzed her conclusions, she could have challenged these by reasoning: ‘I do some things right and some wrong, just like other people. I made a couple of mistakes, and I need to work on being more thoughtful, but let’s not blow this all out of proportion.’ Such reasoning would have left her self-esteem intact.
So often that overly critical inner voice that condemns us is wrong! Some typical distorted thoughts that breed depression are listed in the accompanying box. Learn to recognize such erroneous thoughts and mentally challenge their validity.
Another victim of low self-esteem was Jean, a 37-year-old single parent. “I was under strain trying to rear two boys. But when I saw other single parents get married, I thought, ‘Something must be wrong with me,’” she explained. “By dwelling on just negatives, these snowballed, and I ended up hospitalized for depression.”
“After leaving the hospital,” Jean continued, “I read in the Awake! of September 8, 1981, a list of ‘Thoughts That Can Incline One to Depression.’ Each night I read that list. Some of the wrong thoughts were, ‘My value as a person depends on what others think of me,’ ‘I should never feel hurt; I should always be happy and serene,’ ‘I should be the perfect parent.’ I tended to be a perfectionist, so as soon as I would think that way, I’d pray to Jehovah to help me stop. I learned that negative thinking leads to low self-esteem, for all you see is the trouble in your life and not the good that God has given you. By forcing myself to avoid certain incorrect thoughts, I got over my depression.” Do some of your thoughts need to be challenged or rejected?
Is It My Fault?
Although Alexander was very depressed, he managed to teach a school class. (See page 3.) When some of his pupils failed a very important reading test, he became suicidal. “He felt that he had failed,” reported Esther, his wife. “I told him it was not his fault. You can’t have 100-percent success.” Yet, his overwhelming guilt closed his mind and led him to suicide. Often, exaggerated guilt is caused by assuming an unrealistic responsibility for the behavior of other people.
Even in the case of a child, a parent can strongly influence his life but not absolutely control it. If something does not go as well as you had planned, ask yourself: Did I face unforeseen occurrences beyond my control? (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Did I do all I reasonably could within the limits of my physical, mental, and emotional resources? Were my expectations just too high? Do I need to learn to be more reasonable and modest?—Philippians 4:5.
But what if you do make a serious mistake, and it is your fault? Will continuing to beat yourself mentally change the mistake? Is not God willing to forgive you, even “in a large way,” if you are genuinely repentant? (Isaiah 55:7) If God will “not for all time keep finding fault,” should you sentence yourself to a lifetime of mental suffering over such wrongdoing? (Psalm 103:8-14) Not constant sadness but taking positive steps to ‘right the wrong’ is what will please Jehovah God and also ease your depression.—2 Corinthians 7:8-11.
‘Forget the Things Behind’
Some of our emotional problems may be rooted in the past, especially if we were victims of unjust treatment. Be willing to forgive and forget. ‘Forgetting is not easy!’ you may be thinking. True, but it is better than destroying the rest of your life by dwelling on what cannot be undone.
“Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead,” wrote the apostle Paul, “I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize.” (Philippians 3:13, 14) Paul did not dwell on the wrong course he had pursued in Judaism, including even approving of murder. (Acts 8:1) No, he concentrated his energies on qualifying for the future prize of eternal life. Maria also learned not to dwell on the past. At one time she blamed her mother for the way she had reared her. Her mother had stressed excellence and physical beauty; hence, Maria was a perfectionist and tended to be jealous of her attractive sister.
“This underlying jealousy was the root of the conflicts, but I blamed my family for the way I acted. Then I came to the point where I thought, ‘Really, what difference does it make whose fault it was?’ Maybe I have some bad traits because of the way Mother raised me, but the point is to do something about it! Don’t continue to act that way.” This realization helped Maria make the needed mental adjustments to win her fight against depression.—Proverbs 14:30.
Your Real Value
All factors considered, successfully fighting depression requires having a balanced view of your own worth. “I would say to every one of you,” wrote the apostle Paul, “not to estimate himself above his real value, but to make a sober rating of himself.” (Romans 12:3, Charles B. Williams) False pride, ignoring our limitations, and perfectionism are all an overestimate of ourselves. These tendencies must be resisted. Yet, avoid going to the other extreme.
Jesus Christ stressed the individual worth of each of his disciples by saying: “Five sparrows sell for two coins of small value, do they not? Yet not one of them goes forgotten before God. But even the hairs of your heads are all numbered. Have no fear; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6, 7) We are of such worth to God that he takes note of even the minutest detail about us. He knows things about us that we do not know ourselves because he deeply cares about each of us.—1 Peter 5:7.
Recognizing the personal interest God had in her helped Sarah to improve her feelings of self-worth. “I always felt awe for the Creator, but then I came to realize that he cared about me as a person. No matter what my children do, no matter what my husband does, regardless of how my mom and dad raised me, I realized I had a personal friendship with Jehovah. Then my self-esteem really began to grow.”
Since God considers his servants precious, our worth does not rest on approval by another human. Of course, rejection is unpleasant. But when we use another’s approval or disapproval as the yardstick by which to measure our own worth, we are making ourselves vulnerable to depression. King David, a man after God’s own heart, was on one occasion called a “good-for-nothing man,” literally, a “man of worthlessness.” Yet, David realized that the name-caller had a problem, and he did not view the remark as a final judgment of his own worth. In fact, as people often do, Shimei later apologized. Even if someone justly criticizes you, recognize it as directed against a specific thing you did, not your worth as a person.—2 Samuel 16:7; 19:18, 19.
Sarah’s personal study of the Bible and Bible-based literature and attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses helped her lay the foundation for a relationship with God. “But my changed attitude about prayer was the biggest help,” recalled Sarah. “I used to think that we only prayed to God about big things and should not bother him with insignificant problems. Now I feel I can talk to him about anything. If I’m nervous about making a decision, I ask him to help me be calm and reasonable. I draw even closer as I see him responding to my prayers and helping me get through each day and each trying circumstance.”—1 John 5:14; Philippians 4:7.
Indeed, the assurance that God has a personal interest in you, understands your limitations, and will give you the strength to tackle each day is the key in the fight against depression. Yet, at times, regardless of what you do, the depression lingers.
“I have tried everything, including nutritional supplements and antidepressants,” bemoans Eileen, a 47-year-old mother who has struggled with major depression for years. “I have learned to adjust wrong thinking, and this has helped me to be a more reasonable person. But the depression remains.”
The fact that depression persists does not mean that you are not fighting it skillfully. Doctors do not know all the answers to treating the disorder. In some situations the depression is a side effect of some medicines taken to treat a serious illness. Thus, the use of such medicines is a trade-off because of the benefit they may be in treating some other medical problem.
Of course, pouring out your feelings to another understanding person helps. Yet, no other human can really know the depth of your agony. However, God knows and will help. “Jehovah has provided strength to keep trying,” revealed Eileen. “He has not let me give up, and he has given me hope.”
With God’s help, emotional support from others, and your own efforts, you will not be overwhelmed so that you give up. In time you can adjust to the depression, just as you would to any chronic illness. Endurance is not easy, but it is possible! Jean, whose severe depression persisted, said: “We didn’t even take it day by day. It was more like hour by hour.” With both Eileen and Jean, the hope promised in the Bible kept them going. What is that hope?
A Precious Hope
The Bible speaks of a time in the near future when God “will wipe out every tear from [mankind’s] eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3, 4) God’s Kingdom will then bring about the complete physical and mental healing of all its earthly subjects.—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29.
Not only will physical pain be removed but painful distress and affliction of the heart will disappear too. Jehovah promises: “The former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart. But exult, you people, and be joyful forever in what I am creating.” (Isaiah 65:17, 18) What a relief it will be to mankind to be relieved of the burdens of the past and to awaken each day with crystal-clear minds, eager to tackle the day’s activity! No longer will humans be hampered by the haze of a depressed mood.
With ‘no more death, mourning, or outcry,’ gone will be the sense of tragic losses and daily emotional strains that now lead to depression. Since loving-kindness, trueness, and peace will permeate dealings that people have with one another, bitter conflicts will cease. (Psalm 85:10, 11) As the effects of sin are removed, what great joy to be able finally to measure up perfectly to God’s standard of righteousness and have full peace within!
This exciting prospect is a great incentive to keep fighting, no matter how intense depression becomes. For in God’s new world, perfected humans will have gained an absolute victory over depression. What good news that is!
Awake! does not endorse or promote any form of treatment but provides current information to be helpful. See “Attacking Major Depression—Professional Treatments” in our October 22, 1981, issue. To overcome the simple blues, which are quite different from major depression, see “How Can I Get Rid of the Blues?” in our October 8, 1982, issue.
The confidant of a depressed person must not only avoid judgmental statements that would add to that one’s feelings of guilt and worthlessness but also not be unrealistically optimistic. Our next issue will have information on how others can help depressed ones.
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Distorted Thinking Patterns
All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfection, you see yourself as a total failure.
Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. For instance, after an argument with a friend, you may conclude: ‘I’m losing all my friends. Nothing turns out right for me.’
Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t count” or, “I’m not worthy of such.” By dwelling on a single negative detail, your whole view darkens.
Jumping to conclusions: You arbitrarily conclude that someone doesn’t like you, and you don’t bother to check this out. Or you are absolutely convinced that things will always turn out badly.
Magnification or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your own mistake or someone else’s achievement) or play down things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). You make nightmarish disasters out of commonplace negative events.
Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event that, in fact, you were not primarily responsible for.
Based on Feeling Good—The New Mood Therapy, by David D. Burns, M.D.
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Pouring out your feelings to an empathetic confidant can be a healing process and provide great relief
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God considers even little sparrows of worth, so of what greater worth God considers us