My wife recently asked me why I thought depression was such a struggle within our society as well as with our churches.
It is true that rates of clinical depression have been on the rise in the recent past1, but why depression seems to be such an invasive problem has many people scratching their heads. Though I cannot say with any certainty what factors are leading many in our communities to clinically depressed states, I can say with great conviction that many remain under the weight of depression because they are unable, or unwilling to find help.
For anyone who has never dealt with depression, it is important that you not jump to any conclusions about the statements that follow. If you have not experienced the darkness of clinical depression, you cannot know the effort that it takes to get out of bed, much less locate and contact a person who can provide help. So please, read, learn and lace your responses to others with grace and compassion.
People who are depressed remain undiagnosed, discouraged, and unchanged for several reasons. Five such scenarios are listed below.
1. The depressed individual is unaware that he/she is depressed.
-Depression eliminates or diminishes a person’s drive for everything. They lose interest in people, places, and activities that used to encourage or excite them2. Their patterns of sleeping, eating, and thinking can change drastically, and at times, they simply fail to notice that there are changes taking place.
Many times, an individual simply excuses the altered motivations or behavior due to some real-world factor that has entered their life. “School started.” “It’s summer.” “I just started a new job.” “I’m bored with this job.” Any excuse is a good one when the symptoms of depression start. The real danger is in the attitude that a different thing or activity will “pull me out of my funk.” A philosophy of the “next new thing” will continue to compound the depression because nothing will ever satisfy so long as our dissatisfaction is within us.
2. The depressed individual is aware that he/she is depressed, but doesn’t know how to get help.
-Whether or not a person recognizes their depression is important, but if they are unaware of where or how to get help, their depression will only grow in intensity and despair due to the fact that they are now clinically depressed and feel hopeless in finding any solution to their issues. Hopelessness is a likely development, and what follows hopelessness is never healthy. If you are reading this and have nowhere to turn, please Click Here to find answers in your area.
3. The depressed individual is aware that he/she is depressed, and chooses to self medicate, rather than including someone else in their struggle.
-What does it mean to self-medicate? Any process or substance that diverts attention from the depressed individual for momentary sedation of depressed symptoms. These attempts to overcome depression often lead to greater degrees of depression because they compound the original symptoms with shame, deceit, and physical or emotional wounds that lead to increased levels of isolation from friends and family. Prolonged engagement with such activities and substances, while experiencing depression, often lead to obsession and addiction.
Examples include, but are not limited to: Drug use, alcohol abuse, cutting, pornography, sex, criminal activity, gang association, sadism, masochism, exhibitionism, violence toward others, violence toward animals, suicidal ideations, and attempts at suicide.
My experience with depression has most often led me down this kind of path. Drug use, alcohol abuse, and violence were tendencies that came quite naturally for me before I began to seek a more professional kind of help for my depression.
4. The depressed individual is aware of their depression, knows of an avenue to get help, but chooses against getting help because:
(a) he/she does not want help.
The darkness associated with depression is difficult to explain, but when I have counseled some people whose drug use forced them into the care of a professional, many times the excuse they gave for not getting help early on in their depression was that they felt unworthy of any kind of help. Some expressed a longing to reach out, but assumed that they somehow deserved the torture that they were experiencing.
(b) he/she is too embarrassed to admit there is a problem.
Sometimes a persons own pride plays a pivotal role in their failing to get help. The individual feels like they should be able to just “snap out of it” or simply “power through” their problems. But depression is not something you can simply power through.
At other times, the individual is more embarrassed by the things that have come with their depression. When I have experienced this in counseling, it is often after a period of self-medication has occurred. The embarrassment is primarily associated with their drug use, their self-mutilation, or some other process. Nothing seems to bring about more shame than addiction to pornography. It is truly amazing how degrading pornography is, and the level of shame associated with it is astounding. Whatever the manifestation, embarrassment is a consistent deterrent in people finding help.
I have to admit that there is a level of embarrassment in writing this blog. What if somebody reads it? Then they’ll know…
5. The depressed individual is aware of their depression, asks for help, but is rejected by the person they have asked.
-Parents and spouses are the usual culprit in this scenario. For some reason, parents and spouses tend to take it personally when they find out that their child/spouse is suffering from depression. Sometimes its because they are embarrassed by the situation and don’t want people to know that their family isn’t perfect (even though it isn’t). At times they believe that to acknowledge that their spouse/child is depressed is to acknowledge that they are not being a good enough parent or spouse. Either way, they stifle the advances of the affected family member, thwarting their attempt to get help.
Open dialogue is an extremely helpful tool when trying to help people you love!
More often than not, families fail to talk about depression and other mental health issues until a tragedy strikes close to home. Then, they hurry through some oversimplified set of mental health checkpoints they found in a random Google search. Few families take the time to care for the mental and emotional wellbeing of their loved ones.
I beg you to take the time!
Take whatever time you need to be an advocate for those around you. You may have to ask several times before someone who is struggling with depression admits they have a problem. Also, you may have to wade through a great deal of anger, resentment, and regret before you can get to the root of the problem. But keep going!
If you notice signs that someone is suffering with depression like altered sleeping or eating habits, development of a substance or process addiction, or even subtle attempts to isolate instead of being a part of a group, please encourage them to talk to someone they trust.
If you find yourself in a friendship or family where depression is likely, don’t try to fix it on your own. Get some help!
I have struggled with varying degrees of depression for many years. I have recognized that my struggle with depression isn’t over. Sometimes it went unnoticed by others, but more often than not, people could tell that I was struggling. If someone comes to you and shares concern for your mental or emotional wellbeing, please acknowledge them in their gesture of love. Even if their advance is a bumbling, stumbling mess, recognize that it is made in love!
Don’t try to fight on your own. Include someone in your struggle.
How to help a grieving friend.