Is There Hope for The Depressed?
It is common in the 21st century to romanticize depression. In an attempt to remove any sense of guilt among the depressed for depression, evangelical dialogue about depression has largely adopted a pathological conception of the experience. This conception isn’t altogether wrongheaded, though the possibility of a solution seems to have been obscured by the acceptability of the condition.
Here, we will unpack specifically how to understand depression through a solution-focused lens, and thereby to reconceive the nature of the condition’s grasp on the mind.
TIP: Check Out the article “Why You Always Feel Terrible, and How to Stop”
Depression is often one of two kinds of depression. A failure to distinguish between these two kinds will yield frustration and will impede progress in overcoming depression. These two kinds of depression are situational depression and dispositional depression. But before we unpack this distinction, we should make another simpler distinction first--that between pathology and dynamism. Pathology is the aspect of a psychological state which is passively experienced by a person--it is the portion of their experience over which they have no direct, operational control. Dynamism is the aspect of a psychological state which actively expresses one’s inner state, over which one has direct, operational control.
Depression could be a pessimistic disposition that latches onto anything it can to fabricate its own credibility.
Dispositional depression is pathological in so far as it is a result of physiological and psychological conditions. If one has cultivated one’s appetites to enjoy self-destructive objects, or one has indulged their pessimism so often and so habitually, depression is the natural result. Depression can be the consequential inability to make positive sense or proactive momentum out of anything in one’s life.
Dispositional depression is active to the degree that one continues to participate in those same psychological habits which yielded the depression in the first place. Examples include unrestrained indulgence overeating, pornography use, anger, cynicism, resentment, and physical inactivity.
Very often, depression is about something. In a psychologized evangelical culture, many Christians are reluctant to speak about depression this way, because they don’t want to make the solution to such a besetting problem sound so simple. Because of this rhetoric, it’s very easy to believe that depression is commonly about nothing--that it is merely a pathological, dispositional depression.
Situational depression is pathological in so far as it is a result of external conditions. Situational depression is pathological to the degree that it is in response to unforeseen, tragic circumstances such as injury, death, or broken relationships. Situational depression is dynamic in so far as one is living in the bed one has made for oneself. Situational depression is active to the degree that one is living the life one has created through one’s bad choices.
Is it Okay to Be Depressed?
With this distinction in hand, I want to make a claim that shouldn’t be bold, but will be taken as offensive, victim-blaming, and unempathetic. In order to state this claim as simple as possible, I will put it in the form of an answer to a question. Here is the question:
Is it okay to be depressed?
The answer is no. No, it’s not okay to be depressed. It sounds harsh to suggest that the depressed person bears some responsibility for their state, and that they should get out of it. But the truth is quite the opposite. We have so pathologized our conception of depression, that we have actually robbed depressed people of a way of thinking about their condition that empowers them to think of a way out. Let me pose a different question:
Is it good to be depressed?
It might be fitting to be sad in response to a tragedy, but even grief is most successful when it is accomplished most quickly. Recent psychological science bears this out. Late 90’s grief theory recommended people take longer to grieve in order to achieve a more successful resolution to the grief, but recent research in resilience, particularly by George Bonanno at Columbia, have shown that the quickest paths through grief--and those which demonstrate the greatest resilience to sadness--are the most effective and formidable solutions to grief. We used to think that wallowing in sadness purchased something for us, but it turns out that the opposite is true--it only digs us deeper in a pathological hole from which we will have to dig ourselves out.
More than that, there are externalities to depression--especially if you are married or have children. Not only can you escape depression--it is incumbent upon you to do so. And the script that you’ve received from a Christian community that tells you it’s impossible is actually evil and harmful to you to the extent that it persuades you not to try, or hampers the energy with which you seek to escape your condition. Even if you’re not married and don’t have children, you still owe it to yourself to fix yourself. You can do it. And the blame for failing to do it may not rest on a failure of willpower on your part as much as it rests on a script you’ve adopted from credible mental health authorities who are culpable for perpetuating false and entrapping speech which has decimated your efforts before you even had a chance to try.
Hope for the Depressed
The first message of hope that every depressed person needs to hear is that it’s not good to be depressed, and you can absolutely get out of it. The treatment plan for each person will depend on what unique cyclone of situational and dispositional depression prompted the onset of their psychological darkness.
Situational depression can easily cultivate a dispositional depression, which will fortify itself by growing physiological and psychological pathologies in the depressed person which further perpetuate the dispositional depression. This deepening dispositional depression will hinder the depressed person from overcoming external, situational factors contributing to situational depression, fortifying even further the dispositional depression. It’s a cycle that drags many people down to Hell for their entire lives, and it drags nearly 100,000 people each year to kill themselves.
The two most common causes of depression are social isolation and unemployment. If you can rectify these two realities in your life, that will not immediately cure your depression. But it is the most effective way to condition yourself out of a depressive disposition and into a fortuitous relational and financial situation. The primary means by which people find their way out of financial duress is by being enmeshed in a community with people who can connect them with employment opportunities.
If you are depressed, it is most likely the natural feeling produced in your mind by social isolation and financial dispossession. The greater degree to which you are able to rectify these two realities in your life, the more quick and lasting the tentacles of situational and dispositional depression will unravel from your neck. The more socially connected you are with intimate friends who live close to you, and the more you are able to secure a steady income, the more you will be able to use your dynamic faculties of mind and will to overcome the weakening pathological elements of depression.
Start with the tactile. Trust that whatever you’re feeling right now is a natural response to a situation that needs to be fixed, fix that situation, and then with your new situational liberty, change your habits and actions to objects which facilitate a positive mindset rather than a negative one. The more you socially integrate and gain financial stability, the easier this will feel. When you begin digging yourself out, it will feel impossible. Getting yourself out of a depressive state is a lot like getting in shape physically--it’s very hard, it takes a lot of effort, and the results take time to manifest themselves noticeably. But there is only one way, and you must pursue that way.
Can medication such as SSRI’s be helpful? Absolutely. You should seriously consider that path. There is nothing inferior or wrong about taking medicine. Nothing. And you should also consider what personal goals you want to maintain with the mental strength you will gain from medication. If your goal with medication is to be a happy, isolated, inactive, indulgent person, you will fail. You must always keep your eye on the primary goal in overcoming depression--to socially integrate yourself with positive-minded people who are able to empathize and be patient with your journey out of depression, and to establish financial stability. People who accomplish both these things rarely become depressed.
It’s only acceptable to be depressed if you have no meaning in your life. You’re not guilty of sin because of depression. But you are responsible for getting out of that mindset, and it’s something you should seek to do as soon as possible. Progressive evangelicals often romanticize depression, because they don’t really know how to think about it well--so they buy modern psychiatric dogma about the pure pathology of mental suffering. But depression can literally kill you. Suicide rates are skyrocketing, and part of that is due to the rising romanticization of depression. Current rhetoric about depression makes it sound as if depression is normal and unbeatable. Both of those claims are wrong. It needs to be eradicated, and it can be beaten.
I went through a 5-year season in my life when I was severely depressed. Like many men, I considered suicide. I never felt so alone. I was a financially unstable adult. I was unmarried, addicted to pornography, and slipping quickly into an alcohol addiction.
It was through discovering basic physical principles like diet and exercise that I was able to gain enough autonomy to stop telling myself self-sabotaging scripts that were keeping me in a depressing situation. I started my recovery from depression by taking a day to fix all the things that could be fixed in a day. I did my laundry. I folded my laundry. I made a schedule. I joined a gym. I met with a friend and asked him if we could get together regularly to plan our schedules and think strategically about overcoming depressive situations and mindsets, which included overcoming a chronic pornography addiction.
That single day is still paying off in my life to this day. Life isn’t perfect. I still have very bad days. But the difference is that now I have a lot of good days. When I was depressed, every day was Hell. Every day was looking over the cliff. Every day was crushing, terrifying dull, grey, slop. Now, that’s not true anymore. I am happy. I was able to find a wonderful wife. And my bad days affect her more than they affect me. I’m still optimizing my life. I’m still climbing out of the hole. But when you start climbing out of depression, life gets a lot better. It really does.
You can beat depression, and you ought to. That’s your hope. And don’t let anyone take that away from you.