The Depression Epidemic

As of this week, there were still a few things at my office that had been “undisturbed” since my son took his life on May 13th.

I finally forced myself to go through a small stack of papers a couple of days ago. Inside that stack was an article I’d printed off on April 10th entitled, “The Depression Epidemic.” The author is Dr. Dan Blazer, Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center. The article was actually first published in 2009, in Christianity Today. Blazer had some really good things to say to those suffering with this sometimes enigmatic malady (Jordan suffered from clinical depression. I was diagnosed a number of years ago.)Blazer, up front, differentiates “clinical depression” from “the everyday blues” i.e. “normal depression.” If you, or someone you know, deals with what you may consider clinical depression, please get help.

Here are a few excerpts from his article: “As familiar as melancholic periods are to us, the depths of severe depression remain a mystery. We may grasp in part the distress of King David: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Ps. 31:9-10). But most of us have no idea what David meant when he further lamented, “I am forgotten by them as though I were dead” (v.12). Severe depression is often beyond description. And when such deep and painful feelings cannot be explained, they cut to the heart of one’s spiritual being. Humans are intricately complex creatures. When things go wrong in us, they do so in myriad and nuanced ways…..Deep depression is embodied emotional suffering. It is not simply a state of mind or a negative view of life but something that affects our physical being as well….However we choose to define depression, both its frequency and its disruption of normal life are staggering. The World Health Organization named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years…We also know that distorted thoughts contribute to depression. Those who are depressed do not evaluate themselves accurately (i.e., I am not as good as others). They fear that their selves are disintegrating (i.e., I am falling apart). They depreciate their value to others (i.e., I am of very little benefit to my family). And they believe they do not have control over their bodies (i.e., I just cannot make myself eat)….Finally, no symptom is more central to depression than the loss of hope…When used wisely, antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy can restore stability to individuals so that they can better negotiate everyday challenges….[But, in addition, to medicine], Those who bear the marks of despair on their bodies need a community that bears the world’s only sure Hope in its Body. They need communities that rehearse this Hope again and again and delight in their shared foretaste of God’s promised world to come. They need to see that this great promise, secured by Christ’s resurrection, compels us to work amidst the wreckage in hope. In so doing, the church provides her depressed members with a plausible hope and a tangible reminder of the message they most need to hear: This sin-riddled reality does not have the last word. Christ does….And thanks be to God, who raised the One who entered fully into our condition, breaking the power of sin, death, and hell, that we not only can name wrecked reality, but also lean into it on the promise that Christ is making all things new.”

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Finding Jesus In an Asylum

Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Romans 3:24-25)

It’s important to remember that every song in our hymnal is simply “someone’s story put to music.” The following story is from Robert J. Morgan’s, “Then Sings My Soul.”

William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) is one of God’s gracious gifts to those suffering from depression. Like the Psalmist who cried, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” (Ps. 42:5), Cowper shows us that our emotional struggles often give us heightened sensitivity to the heart of God and to the needs of others.

Cowper, born in 1731, was the fourth child of a British clergyman and his wife. William’s three siblings died, then his mother died while giving birth to the fifth child. William was six when he lost his mother, and it was a blow from which he never recovered.

William, emotionally frail, was sent to a boarding school where for two years he was terrorized by a bully which further shattered his nerves. From ages 10 to 18, he had a better experience at Westminster School, developing a love for literature and poetry. His father wanted him to be an attorney, but, preparing for his bar exam, he succumbed to severe anxiety. Concluding himself hopeless, he threw away his Bible and attempted suicide.

Friends recommended an asylum run by Dr. Nathaniel Cotton, a lover of poetry and a committed Christian. Under Dr. Cotton’s care, William slowly recovered. In the asylum in 1764, he found the Lord while reading Romans 3:25: “….whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith….” (cited at the top)

Eight years later, Cowper would pen the following words which, today, are found in almost any hymn book:

There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see, that fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream, Thy flowing wounds supply;
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be ‘till I die.

Darkness

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you….Even when I walk through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.” (Isaiah 43:2; Psalm 23:4 – NLT)

“I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be [but] one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall be better I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.” Believe it, or not, those are the words of a 32 year old Abraham Lincoln.

None of us are immune to the inevitable dark periods of life when we feel like, as one author described, “a glob of unworthiness.” St. John of the Cross described it as “the dark night of the soul.” It’s a darkness that simply refuses to lift.

When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s 90 foot tall golden idol they were all sentenced to death by being burned alive in a furnace. But something happened that, if we’re not careful, we’ll miss. We pick up the story in Daniel 3:24: “Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty.’ He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

The “fourth man” was the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked out of the furnace not only were they not burned – they didn’t even smell like smoke.

Hope comes from knowing this: it’s not that God will be waiting on the other side of our darkness when it finally lifts, but rather, regardless of how long the darkness lingers, God is with us IN the darkness – holding us. And regardless of how dark, or how hot, it gets – He’s not letting go. Ever.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick