Read an Excerpt
Not Just a Case of the Blues
Depression is on the rise, according to the World Health Organization. The phenomenon isn’t contained within the borders of the United States or confined to the technological frontiers of the First World. Across the globe, by the year 2020, depression will be second only to heart disease as the leading cause of debilitating illness. It’s everywhere; it’s increasing; it’s serious. This isn’t just a global case of the blues.
If you ask people on the street if they know someone who has suffered from heart problems, they will probably tell about an uncle or a parent who has had a heart attack, angioplasty, or bypass surgery. In some cases, that person may no longer be alive. But often, the patient will have recovered and is reportedly “doing great.”
Ask them if they know someone who has suffered from depression, and they may not answer as quickly. Most will probably be able to come up with someone. They may remember an aunt who always seemed unhappy at family functions, if she showed up at all. They may recall a cousin who was depressed in high school. They will probably be hesitant to conclude the person is doing well. Instead, they tend to adopt a more watchful, wait-and-see attitude. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, depression is a leading disability worldwide, affecting more than 350 million people.1
At the facility I founded, the Center for Counseling and Health Resources near Seattle, Washington, people come to us with fears, doubts, nonexistent motivation, and a general lack of vitality in their lives. The hope and optimism of childhood seem a distant, ill-remembered dream as they venture through adulthood. At the Center, we recognize these symptoms of depression and work to stem its tide in those we counsel. Society doesn’t always make our job easier.
People often mention the late Kurt Cobain (1967–94) when discussing depression. Kurt, the lead singer for the grunge group Nirvana, was said to be the voice of his generation, a harbinger of their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. In his life, Cobain articulated the tragic results of failing to recover from his long-standing depression. Never choosing to whitewash his despair, Cobain instead embraced his dark feelings and responded to an uncomprehending world with his signature album Nevermind. His obsessive self-hatred and destructive attempts at self-medication through drugs, alcohol, and inner rage resulted in his successful suicide in 1994. Clearly, in his life and even in his death, Cobain was on the leading edge of societal trends.
More recently, we have publicly witnessed the fatal consequences of depression surrounding the high-profile deaths of musicians Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse, model Anna Nicole Smith, and actors Heath Ledger and Brittany Murphy. Though other factors certainly played into their troubling lives and tragic deaths, the medication of depression only compounded the problem, in some cases self-medicating behaviors; in others, prescribed antidepressants may have been either ineffective or simply done more harm than good in combination with other drugs.
Though the media focus on their lives often spills over into the absurd, celebrity struggles with depression do serve to shine a sobering spotlight on how difficult depression is to treat, even for those who have every resource imaginable at their disposal.
Out with the Old
Depression is becoming more pervasive, and with its increase, professionals are scrambling to craft a response. While there is a growing recognition that the old answers aren’t working anymore, health-care experts agree the answer is not in continuing the wholesale medication of both children and adults. But neither should sufferers be left to concoct their own destructive, self-medicating strategies.
In the past, there were two popular responses to depression: get over it or medicate it. Those suffering with depression were considered to be self-indulgent and self-obsessed. Their dark moods were responded to with little patience or understanding. People with depression were often counseled to just “Cheer up!” When the “get-over-it” method didn’t seem to work, increasing numbers of sufferers turned to medication. The use of Prozac and other antidepressant medications has recently skyrocketed. For those choosing to medicate their way out of depression, some have used prescription medication, and others have medicated their pain with age-old remedies such as alcoholism, drug abuse, promiscuity, eating disorders, self-mutilation, and other compulsive behaviors. In recent years, a new addiction has reared its ugly head: addiction to new media and technology, a welcome distraction from reality that is not only socially acceptable but encouraged and celebrated. Some retreat to addictions, and some retreat to lethargy and sleep, unable to get out of bed in the morning, day after day. Frustration over the inability to deal with depression has increased also, not only among health-care professionals but also among those who suffer from it. When depressed people are unable to pull themselves up by their mental bootstraps, so to speak, and prescribed medication and even self-medication aren’t successful, many conclude that suicide is the only way out of their downward spiral. Victims of ongoing depression often feel that life no longer seems worth living. Their struggle to survive simple daily tasks just doesn’t seem worth the pain.
One Story, Different Voices
As depression increases, it rises to the top of our national consciousness, out from the shadows and into the spotlight. As more people become aware of depression, they recognize its presence in their own lives. The nameless dread, the constant fear, the ever-present weight takes on a name. It has now become a “diagnosis.”
With the identification of a diagnosis comes the desire for a one-sizefits-all solution. A singular reason, with a scientific solution, is appealing to the depressed individual and to his or her concerned family, friends, or acquaintances. When the reason for depression is understood—especially in light of new discoveries in brain science—there is a new sense of hope for its treatment. If we know what the problem is, we believe our technological society should be able to fix it. Energized by the discovery of a reason for destructive behaviors, many sufferers become impatient for a “cure,” hence the current increase in pharmaceutical remedies for the symptoms of depression.
When individuals acknowledge their depression and say, “Yes, that’s my problem,” they can feel as if identifying their problem also solves it. But understanding the problem of depression doesn’t mean the journey to healing is over. The diagnosis of depression in a person’s life is more like a crossroad than a single destination.
People arrive at the point of depression from many different places, indicating there are a variety of paths to recovery. In short, there is no one answer for depression and no single path to recovery. Just as the reasons for depression are as varied as the individuals who suffer from it, the paths to recovery will also be unique to each individual.
Not every person suffering from depression should be medicated. Not every person who has a bad day is depressed.
Not every person who struggles over meaning and purpose in life should be viewed as “crazy.”
Not every person is able to bounce back from a major traumatic event without assistance.
In order to deal with an individual’s depression, his or her uniqueness, his or her story must be heard, understood, and integrated into a personalized recovery.
The Whole-Person Approach
Applying the whole-person approach to recovery can individualize treatment for depression. The whole-person approach is based upon recognition of the unique components of an individual’s life and how these components interweave to form the whole person. This book is designed to explain each component of the whole-person approach and how those components can identify real answers to curing depression.
The components we will look at in the whole-person approach are emotional, environmental, relational, physical, and spiritual. Together, these components provide keys to why a person is depressed, and they can open a doorway to his or her recovery.