Hope for Sufferers
IN THE past, people tended to avoid those who suffered from mood disorders. As a result, many who were afflicted became social outcasts. Some encountered job discrimination. Others were shunned by members of their own family. Often, this only aggravated the problem and prevented those who were ailing from getting help.
In recent decades, however, great strides have been made in understanding clinical depression and bipolar disorder. Now it is well-known that these conditions are treatable. But getting help is not always easy. Why?
Reading the Signs
A mood disorder is not diagnosed with a simple blood test or X ray. Instead, a person’s behavior, thinking, and judgment are monitored over a period of time. A number of symptoms must be present for a diagnosis to be reached. The problem is that sometimes family members and friends do not realize that what they are observing constitutes evidence of a mood disorder. “Even when people agree on how a person’s behavior deviates from normal,” writes Dr. David J. Miklowitz, “they can have very different beliefs about what causes the person to be this way.”
Furthermore, even when family members feel that the situation is serious, it may be difficult to convince the sufferer that he or she needs medical attention. Or if you are the one who is ailing, you may not be inclined to get help. Dr. Mark S. Gold writes: “Maybe you believe what you think when you’re depressed—that you’re no good, so what’s the use of going for help when there’s no hope for somebody like you anyway. Maybe you’d like to see someone about it but you think that being depressed is something to be ashamed of, that it’s all your fault. . . . Maybe you don’t know that what you’re feeling is depression.” Nevertheless, for those who suffer from major depression, medical attention is crucial.
Of course, everyone feels despondent on occasion, and this does not necessarily indicate a mood disorder. But what if these feelings seem more intense than a mere bout with the blues? And what if they persist for an unusual length of time—perhaps two weeks or more? Furthermore, suppose the depressive moods are preventing you from functioning normally, either at work, at school, or in social situations. In such a case, it might be wise to consult a professional who is qualified to diagnose and treat depressive disorders.
When a biochemical imbalance is involved, medication may be prescribed. In other cases, a program of counseling might be recommended to help the sufferer learn how to cope with his or her condition. At times, both approaches combined have produced beneficial results.* The important thing is to reach out and get help. “Many times sufferers are frightened and ashamed of their condition,” says Lenore, a bipolar patient mentioned in the preceding article. “The real shame, though, is suspecting you have a problem and not seeking the help that you so desperately need.”
Lenore is speaking from experience. “I had been virtually bedridden for a year,” she says. “Then, one day when I was feeling a little stronger, I decided to call and make an appointment with a doctor.” Lenore’s condition was diagnosed as bipolar disorder, and medication was prescribed. This proved to be a turning point in her life. “I feel normal when I take my medication,” Lenore says, “although I have to keep reminding myself that if I stop taking it, all the old symptoms will return.”
It is similar with Brandon, who suffers from depression. “As a teenager,” he says, “I often entertained the idea of committing suicide because of my overwhelming feelings of worthlessness. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I went to a doctor.” Like Lenore, Brandon takes medication to cope with his disorder, but more is involved. “To help my overall well-being,” he says, “I take care of my mind and my body. I get rest and watch what I eat. I also fill my mind and heart with positive thoughts from the Bible.”
Brandon points out, however, that clinical depression is a medical problem—not a spiritual one. Realizing this is crucial to recovery. Brandon relates: “Once I was told by a well-meaning fellow Christian that since Galatians 5:22, 23 says that joy is a fruit of God’s holy spirit, I must be depressed because I’ve been doing something to block that spirit. That made me feel even more guilty and depressed. But once I started getting help, the black cloud over me began to lift. I felt so much better! I wished I had got help sooner.”
Winning the Battle
Even after a diagnosis has been made and treatment has begun, it is likely that a mood disorder will present continual challenges to the sufferer. Kelly, who battles major depression, is grateful for the professional help that has addressed the medical aspects of her condition. In addition, though, she has found that the support of others is crucial. At first, Kelly was reluctant to reach out to others because she did not want to be perceived as a burden. “I had to learn not only to seek help but also to accept it,” she says. “It wasn’t until I opened up that I was able to stop the downward spiral.”
As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Kelly attends meetings with fellow believers at the Kingdom Hall. At times, though, even these happy occasions present challenges. “Often the lights, the milling around of people, and the noise can be overwhelming. Then the guilt sets in, and the depression increases because I feel that my disorder must be a reflection of a lack of spirituality.” How does Kelly deal with this situation? She says: “I have learned that depression is an illness that needs to be dealt with. It is not a reflection of my love for God or for my fellow Christians. It is not a true reflection of my spirituality.”
Lucia, mentioned previously in this series of articles, is grateful for the excellent medical care she has received. “Seeing a mental-health professional has been absolutely vital for my learning to deal with and ride out the mood swings that accompany this disease,” she says. Lucia also emphasizes the value of rest. “Sleep is an important key to dealing with mania,” she says. “The less sleep I get, the higher I climb. Even when sleep won’t come, instead of getting up I have trained myself to lie there and rest.”
Sheila, also mentioned earlier, has found it helpful to keep a daily journal in which she can pour out her feelings. She sees a marked improvement in her outlook. Still, there are challenges. “Fatigue, for some reason, lets negative thoughts percolate in my brain,” Sheila says. “But I’ve learned to silence them or at least lower their volume.”
Comfort From God’s Word
The Bible is a strengthening aid for many who suffer from “disquieting thoughts.” (Psalm 94:17-19, 22) Cherie, for example, found Psalm 72:12, 13 to be particularly encouraging. There, the psalmist states about God’s appointed King, Jesus Christ: “He will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. He will feel sorry for the lowly one and the poor one, and the souls of the poor ones he will save.” Cherie was also encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul recorded at Romans 8:38, 39: “I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things now here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love.”
Elaine, a bipolar patient, finds her relationship with God to be an anchor. She is greatly comforted by the words of the psalmist: “A heart broken and crushed, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) “It has truly been a comfort to know that our loving heavenly Father, Jehovah, understands,” she says. “It has been strengthening to draw close to him in prayer, especially in times of great anxiety and distress.”
As can be seen, living with a mood disorder presents unique challenges. However, Cherie and Elaine found that prayerful reliance on God along with appropriate treatment enabled them to improve their lot in life. How, though, can family members and friends help those who suffer from bipolar disorder or depression?
Awake! does not endorse any particular approach. Christians should make sure that any treatment they pursue does not conflict with Bible principles.
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“Once I started getting help, the black cloud over me began to lift. I felt so much better!”—BRANDON
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A Spouse’s Observations
“Before the onset of Lucia’s illness, she touched the lives of many with her keen insight. Even now when people visit my wife when she is calm, they seem drawn by her warmth. What most do not realize is that Lucia alternates between extremes of depression and mania. Such is the legacy of bipolar disorder, the illness she has endured for the past four years.
“During the manic phase, it is not unusual for Lucia to be up until one, two, or even three o’clock in the morning, with creative ideas reeling through her mind. Energy just pours out of her. She will overreact to the minutest things and spend money impulsively. She will walk into the most dangerous situations, feeling that she is invincible, that there is no danger—morally, physically, or otherwise. Related to this impulsiveness is the risk of suicide. Always on the heels of mania is depression, the intensity of which is usually proportionate to that of the preceding mania.
“Life for me has changed dramatically. Even with Lucia’s treatment, what we can accomplish today may be different from what we could accomplish yesterday or will tomorrow. It changes as our circumstances do. I found myself forced to become more flexible than I ever thought possible for me.”—Mario.
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When Medication Is Prescribed
Some feel that taking medication is a sign of weakness. But think of it this way: A diabetic must submit to a program of treatment that may include taking insulin injections. Is this a sign of failure? Hardly! It is simply a means of balancing the body’s nutrients so that the sufferer can remain healthy.
It is much the same with taking medication for depressive and bipolar disorders. Although many people have been helped by a program of counseling that has enabled them to understand their illness, a caution is in order. When a chemical imbalance is involved, the illness cannot be simply reasoned away with logic. Steven, a bipolar patient, relates: “The medical professional who treated me illustrated it this way: You can give a person all the driving lessons in the world, but if you give that person a car with no steering wheel or brakes, then those lessons won’t do much good. In the same way, giving only cognitive counseling to a depressed person may not attain the desired results. Balancing the brain’s chemistry is a valuable first step.”
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The Bible is a strengthening aid for many who suffer from negative thoughts