Dealing with Life's Flat Times
DURING MAY AND JUNE 1998, we saw a historic legal confrontation in our State Parliament. The Government moved to dismiss a sitting Judge from office. The law is above politics, so when politics decides to remove a judge, it is serious. In two hundred years of our history, it has never happened. When serious allegations have been made about a judge, such as on grave moral or mental health grounds the judge concerned quietly resigned.
Judge Vince Bruce morally had done nothing wrong. The problem was that he had done nothing much. He had a dozen of so judgements that had been waiting years to be handed down. He was accused of procrastination. Justice delayed is justice denied. The Government moved to dismiss him from the court. But Judge Vince Bruce rightly refused to go. Only the agreement of both houses of Parliament could dismiss him. So a senior judge made his defence before Parliament as to why he should not be dismissed. His defence was that, as a result of a car accident, he had been through a flat period of life, but with help, he had now recovered. He had been depressed for several years and unable to concentrate on his work. "I was sick and I did not know it" he declared. Now he had recovered. The Parliament accepted his reason. Judge Vince Bruce got back to work and in a few weeks had handed down several judgements.
Why do so many people suffer from feeling flat and being depressed? Why do people who have every reason for feeling great get depressed? In the Old Testament, King Ahab was once confronted by a prophet of God who told him why he had failed.
"The king went back home to Samaria, worried and depressed ... Ahab went home depressed and angry over what Naboth had said to him. He lay down on his bed facing the wall, and would not eat. His wife Jezebel went to him and asked him: "Why are you so depressed? Why wont you eat?" .. later... "Ahab tore his clothes, took them off, and put on sackcloth. He refused food, slept in the sackcloth, and went about gloomy and depressed." 1 Kings 20:43, 21:4-5,27 GNB These experiences are similar to those experienced today among people who are depressed. Major depression can come without apparent cause, although there is usually a distressing trigger event. Major depression can come in people who have coped well with life, who are good at their work and happy in their personal and social relationships. They can experience prolonged flat times in their lives like Judge Vince Bruce.
1. MOST PEOPLE EXPERIENCE S0ME FLAT TIMES.
A Biological map of Sydney, covering 132 postcode areas, based on 32,000 people who attended for Medicare examinations show that more than one third of Sydney people suffer from feelings of depression. Stress, guilt and remorse, procrastination and an inability to get on with work, inability to handle decision making, lack of concentration and energy, poor sleep, feelings of unworthiness and fear of disease and death were common in more than one third of all people. All suburbs were represented in the survey. Other statistics reveal that one in every five women and one in every ten men suffer at some time or other from depression. Post-natal depression and manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder affects one in every one hundred people. Depression can affect anyone.
2. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF DEPRESSION?
Depression covers a broad range of negative feelings, some short-term, and others long-term. Professor Gordon Johnston, the Professor of Psychiatry at Sydney University says that depressed people have feelings of being low in spirit, unwell, worthless, despairing, pessimistic, often not wanting to get out of bed, losing appetite, feeling alienated and alone, unable to sleep with loss of sexual urges. The social affects include loss of self-esteem, indecisiveness, dejection, and despair.
There are spiritual affects as well with the depressed person feeling guilty, sinful, unworthy, and apart from God. All of these characteristics of depression can be illustrated from scripture, as he who cried: PSALM 42:2-3,5, 3 "My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" 5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?" Psalm 43 and 69 are also Psalms by a depressed person. Many individuals in scripture like Elijah, suffered depression.
3. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF DEPRESSION?
Some causes may be biochemical. Some, suffering from bipolar disorder or manic depression hit depths of despair, then periods of normalcy followed by period of excessive joy. This is not the fault of the person but is the result of a chemical imbalance. Likewise endogenous or major depression occurs due to a biochemical process that changes their behaviour, perhaps for long periods. Hormonal changes such as in menopause, and in post-natal conditions following childbirth can change behaviour patterns. In all these cases relief can be given though medication.
Some causes may be psychological. Traumas in childhood may have the affect of inducing depression later in life. The person may feel guilty. They may feel frightened and abandoned. They may think poorly of themselves. An extensive survey of Harvard University students show that over a four year period about 25% of students drop out of their courses. Of these, 40% require psychiatric help, mostly for depression caused by the awareness of the gap between being regarded as a brilliant student from their high school days, and the reality that Harvard is filled with students more brilliant than themselves.
Some causes may be spiritual. Great failures and loss through death can alienate a person from God. They feel hostile toward God. Sinful action may lead to unresolved guilt which requires forgiveness. Despair pervades their lives which lacks meaning or fulfilment. Meaningless suffering follows them. Many people suffer from causes like these.
4. WHAT ARE THE CURES FOR DEPRESSION?
What do you do when you feel depressed? What do you do with the flat times in your life? Sometimes we may bring our depression upon ourselves. Intemperate activity, overwork coupled with anxiety, traumas associated with family life and personal achievement, unrealistic expectations and negative thinking about ourselves can all lead to prolonged flat times in our lives. Some good counselling is necessary from a professional and the depression has a good chance of being healed by a change in life-style and in healthier thinking. The causes may be complex. That is why at Wesley Private Hospital medical teams work to help people.
Those who suffer from biochemical imbalance need careful assessing and chemical supplements by means of prescribed drugs. We are fortunate in having among our membership of this Mission both Christian Psychiatrists and general practitioners who can diagnose this kind of bipolar depression and prescribe the correct drugs required.
Those who suffer from reactive depression brought about by traumas that have overwhelmed them, can be helped by careful counselling from a professional psychiatrist or psychologist. We are fortunate in having in this Mission such professionals who are dedicated to helping sufferers from depression by careful therapy.
For those who suffer from neurotic depression brought about by the conflict between their high expectations and low realities, low self-image and poor concepts of their own self-worth, burdened by guilt and a sense of alienation, can be helped by careful spiritual ministry. We are fortunate in having in this Mission professional ministers trained in counselling and spiritual guidance who can show you from the scriptures the resources of the faith which will enable you to realise who you are, how your guilt can be taken away, and how you can have a true sense of your own self-worth.
5. CHRISTIANS CAN HANDLE THE FLAT TIMES OF LIFE.
Through careful diagnosis, treatment with medication, therapy, counselling and a healthier life-style, you can again praise God, and live serenely and with happiness. All who suffer from flat times in their lives can benefit from some general good health practise.
You should exercise. You should have a sensible diet, avoiding fats and sugar. You should avoid alcohol. You should pay attention to areas of life that create stress. You should talk to someone if there is a continuing problem. You should set yourself some goals and have some creative activity.
Note how the Psalmist coped: Psalms 42:8-11 8 "By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" 10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?" 11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God." The Psalmist spoke to God about his troubles in prayer, read His word, questioned why he was feeling so flat, and put his hope confidently in God.
Yet someone will say, "Is there any evidence that practical religion can help you?" This week, 11th August 1998 USA TODAY carried a report of psychiatrists who have studied 2,391 people for the past six years. This is a finding of the National Institute For Health Care Research, and the study is published in this month's Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. The author, Dr David B Larson reports: "People who attended a religious service once a week and prayed and studied the Bible once a day, were 40% less likely to have high blood pressure than those who don't go to church or pray or study the Bible. If they rely upon the radio or TV for their religion, this wasn't nearly as beneficial. It shows church attendance is good for your health."
Previous studies have shown a positive link between religious activity and prayer and health benefits. Last year researchers found church visits improved the mental health of people over 65 years. This year, researchers found adults who attended church at least once a week, were less likely to have high levels of interleukin-6, an immune system protein associated with age-related diseases. Researchers say more research is needed but they could positively state that going to church is healthy! Dr David B Larson concludes "There are two parts to religion. One is personal and one is social. There is something about the social part that is very important and you don't get that sitting on your couch in front of TV."
And the personal and spiritual part of religion can lift you up, give you goals, meaning and purpose, assure you that you are not alone, forgive you of your sins and remove the depressing burden from your heart. Furthermore, you associate with people who are joyous and who lift their hearts in praise. Depression is defeated by a spirit of sustained thanksgiving. Songs of joy will flow from your lips when you understand that God has accepted you, forgiven your guilt, freed you from your burden and given you a new sense of significance by making you one of His children.
Christians can handle the flat periods of life by His grace. Start by acknowledging you need God. Then believe you can believe in God's love for you. God does love you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Commit yourself to Jesus Christ, as God's only Son and the answer to your every need. Give God praise, and get on with living!
Gordon Moyes 1999
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