Thursday, September 9, 2010

Seeing Depression as a Cold of the Spirit

In the Incheon Bulletin this week, a therapist at the Spiritual Research Center of the diocese writes about depression, comparing it to a cold.  As we all know, he says, we are attacked by the cold virus at the change of seasons when our immune systems are run down. Similarly, many doctors, psychologists, counselors and spiritual directors say depression is the cold of our minds and hearts.

Our society has been alerted to the problems associated with depression by the recent spate of highly publicized suicides of well-known people who suffered from depression. A very common mood disorder among adults, it affects 5 to 12 percent of men, and 10 to 25 percent of women. And we are not talking here about simply feeling down, which can happen to anyone during difficult periods of life. Serious depression, as a despairing state of mind and heart, makes it hard to function and carry on even simple daily activities. Though the symptoms are many and varied, typical symptoms can include losing our taste for food, losing weight, becoming physically fretful, procrastinating, and experiencing a general slowing down of our mental faculties, accompanied by aches and pain. Since the urge to kill oneself often is present, the therapist believes the depressed person should be hospitalized when the symptoms are serious.

Returning to the  analogy of the cold, he says that just as there is no clear cut treatment for a cold--it usually cures itself--the same can be said for most colds of the mind and heart. Colds of the body and of the spirit can often be prevented, he believes, by bodily health, sufficient sleep, good eating habits, regular exercise, and, especially no worrying. He mentions most of the ones he has counseled are worriers--worries being the death of the spirit. As with a cold, he advises us to pay no attention to supposedly worrisome things; let the things go and the worries will go with them. However, if complications develop, either with a cold or with depression, it may be necessary, he warns, to see a specialist.

It is always difficult to know what to say to help the depressed person. It is easy to tell them to see a doctor, knowing the  uselessness of our trying to give advice, but doing so anyway even when trying not to.  It's not always easy to do what we know we should do. The quick-fix answers that tend to come to mind: "Look at the bright side of things; get rid of the negative thinking and try to be positive in your approach to what comes your way" will not help and are best left unsaid. Sometimes, not saying anything is what we should do. Being present, simply listening to their pain may be our best response, the compassionate response. Depression  being in many cases an affliction of the spirit, may be best handled by letting the depressed person reach into the spiritual depths of the disease with a compassionate listener--heart to heart.

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