Understanding the Darkness Withi





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Understanding the Darkness Within

Dr Alex Tang

Imagine yourself at the bottom of a very deep well. You are so far underground that you can hardly see the pinpoint of light that is the opening of the well. Both your feet are stuck in knee-high mud that impedes and slow your movements. The air around you is humid, hot and pungent. You find it difficult to breathe. The darkness that surrounds you presses heavily onto your body that you feel you are being suffocated. You feel tired and drained. You do not know how long you have been stuck at the bottom of this well and you just do not care. You wish you were dead. There is no hope, no future and no colors. Just never-ending darkness. Those of you who have experienced depression will understand what I have just described. It would be a struggle to get out of bed every morning and you dread the coming day.

Depression is the most common mental condition in the world today. It is also the most under-diagnosed treatable emotional problem. Many people do not know they are depressed and many doctors do not think of depression when they review the symptoms of their patients. A medical journal in Malaysia states that depression occurs in 5-10% of patient treated by the general practitioners (GP) and 6-14% of hospitalized patients in this country. The World Health Organization estimated 121 million people suffer from depression and one million people die from suicide due to depression. Yet, studies have shown that 60% of people who suffered from depression recover with adequate counseling and medication.

Are You Depressed?

The prophet Elijah had a spectacular power encounter with the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-40). This encounter resulted in a great victory and the slaughter of the Baal prophets. It also resulted in rain coming after three years of draught. You would have think Elijah will be happy and jubilant.

Instead, on hearing that Queen Jezebel had put a contract on his life, Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. The Chronicler noted that “When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep” (1 Kings 19:3-5). What a strange thing for Elijah to do. Yet depression makes us behave strangely. And Elijah was depressed.

Elijah exhibited some of the most common features of depression:

• Elijah ran out of fear. Then he sat under a tree and wanted to die. Sadness is the most common emotion experienced while other people may experience irritability and stress.
• Shying away from human company is another common behaviour. A depressed person does not want to be with other people. They want to be alone. They wish they can withdraw into their own cocoons. Others long for the comfort of the womb and will assume a ‘fetal’ position. Elijah went alone into the desert.
• Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and despair are common. Elijah felt he is no better than his ancestors. A depressed person feels that he or she is the most worthless person in the universe.
• Elijah slept. Loss of energy and feeling tired despite resting are other common features. A depressed person feels lethargic. His usual hobbies give him no pleasure. Where music used to stir her soul, a depressed person feels nothing inside. They describe themselves as numb or dead inside. There may also be a change in sleeping pattern. Some depressed person sleep more; others become insomniacs or wake very early in the morning.
• A depressed person often harbors thoughts of suicide. To them, there is no hope so that only way out was to kill themselves.
• Others may find difficulty in concentrating. They may find it difficult to read the newspaper. Most will also have problems making simple decisions. Making a choice in choosing to wear a blue or green blouse may be a difficult decision.

Those are the most common features of depression. Most depressed people has all the above mentioned features that Elijah experienced. Does having these features means you are depressed? The answer is no. Negative feelings or feelings of being ‘down’ or under the weather are common to all of us. We may feel sad if our favorite dog died or we did not get our expected cash bonus. That is our normal human emotional response. It becomes depression if these negative feelings last more than two weeks. Depressed people experience these negative feelings for week, months and even years.

What is depression?

Neuroscientists have discovered that our brain cells communicate with each other using chemical compounds called neurotransmitters. They also discovered these neurotransmitters also affect our moods. Too much causes over-stimulation or euphoria and too little causes depression. Depression is due to a neurotransmitter imbalance. It is not a state of mind. Thus we cannot command a depressed person to ‘snap out of it’. Fortunately, there are now medications that can restore the balance of neurotransmitter levels.

Who are susceptible to depression?

Much research has been done on depression and doctors and neuroscientists know more about the condition than before.

• Genetics is an important cause of depression. That is why in certain families, its members are more prone to suffer from depression than others. Unfortunately, neuroscientists are still not able to pinpoint the specific gene that causes depression. It will be a relief for many people if one day, doctors by gene therapy are able to switch off certain genes that cause depression.

• People with certain personalities are more prone to suffer from depression. These people often have low self-esteem and are perpetual pessimists. They always imagine the worst case scenarios.

• Physical conditions like chronic medical illness such as heart diseases, cancers and AIDS can cause depression. In chronic illnesses, various organs are involved and inevitably the neurotransmitter balance in the brain is involved too. This will commonly lead to depression.

• The most common cause of depression is the fast pace of our modern lifestyle. Our fast pace lifestyle leads to stress. Stress provokes a ‘fight or flight’ response in our bodies. This is the way we are created to respond to our environment. Slow runners were often eaten by carnivorous dinosaurs. Our hectic lifestyles are very stressful. Stresses for short periods are helpful. Stress increase the level of neurotransmitters in our brain which sharpens our response time and make us more alert. However, prolonged stress is harmful. Our bodies were not created to handle prolonged stress. Our Creator has built into our bodies, a need to rest; a time for Sabbath rest. During periods of rest, we de-stress and the neurotransmitters in our brain stabilize and toxins are excreted. If we do not have sufficient rest and are exposed to prolonged stress, our brains secrete a lot of neurotransmitters. Over time, our neurotransmitters level becomes depleted because the brain cells cannot produce as much as we need. We then become ‘burnt out’. In the past, we called this condition, a ‘nervous breakdown’. Essentially being ‘burnt out’ or having a ‘nervous breakdown’ is due to chronic prolonged stress. Is it any wonder the incidence of depression is increasing in the world?

• Other causes of depression are drug abuse; especially mood modifiers, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia.

Conclusion - Don’t Worry, Be Happy

In this world, we want to be happy. “Don’t worry, Be happy” seems to be the motto of our modern society. As a result, people with depression often feel out of place. Depressed people are often considered failures or losers. This is not true. No one would consider the prophet Elijah a failure. Yet Elijah suffers from depression like many of us. As we have seen, there are some causes of depression we can do nothing about such as genetics and physical causes. These need medications to get well. Other causes such as depression prone-personalities can be helped by counseling and spiritual direction. This leaves the most common cause of depression- chronic stress from a hectic lifestyle. This is one condition we can prevent and cure. We can change our lifestyle to be less stressful. The only way is to follow the Sabbath rhythm of life- a time to work and a time for rest.

                                                                                                                                                                           Soli Deo Gloria


|posted 30 August 2006|

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