Posts tagged ‘Depression’

Depression, Mental Health, and Spiritual Health

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The statistics are scary.  U.S. suicide rates are on a steep incline.  Writing for Bloomberg, Cynthia Koons explains:

So many statistics say that life in the U.S. is getting better.  Unemployment is at the lowest level since 1969.  Violent crime has fallen sharply since the 1990s – cities such as New York are safer than they’ve ever been.  And Americans lived nine years longer, on average, in 2017 than they did in 1960.  It would make sense that the psychic well-being of the nation would improve along with measures like that. 

Yet something isn’t right.  In 2017, 47,000 people died by suicide, and there were 1.4 million suicide attempts. U.S. suicide rates are at the highest level since World War II, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on June 20, when it released a study on the problem.  And it’s getting worse: The U.S. suicide rate increased on average by about 1% a year from 2000 through 2006 and by 2% a year from 2006 through 2016.

While life may be getting better materially, suicide rates are also climbing precipitously.  Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 34.  Ms. Koons goes on to conjecture why this is.  In her mind, the problem is rooted primarily in a lack of public funding for mental health resources to help those struggling with and suffering from depression:

Most people are at the mercy of their company’s health plans when it comes to seeking care; a person with fewer benefits simply wouldn’t have access to the best resources for either crisis care or chronic mental health treatment.  Even for those fortunate enough to be able to pay out of pocket, availability of providers ranges wildly across the U.S., from 50 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Washington, D.C., for example, to 5.3 per 100,000 in Idaho, according to research from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center.  And despite laws requiring insurers to offer mental health benefits at the same level as other medical coverage, many make it difficult to find appropriate treatment and limit residential care.

Although I am certainly open to the idea of making more resources available for depression, it should also be noted that one of our most publicly preferred paths of care – that of medication – seems to be not only ill-equipped, but virtually non-equipped to handle our current crisis.  As Ms. Koons notes:

The use of antidepressants in Australia, Canada, England, the U.S., and other wealthy countries didn’t lead to a decline in the prevalence and symptoms of mood disorders despite substantial increases in the use of the drugs from 1990 to 2015. 

In light of this, perhaps we need to consider not only the clinical causes of depression, but the cultural ones as well.  Here’s what I mean.

21st century Western culture has sacralized the values of achievement and freedom.  Achievement is a value that can look virtuous – stories of self-made people impress us to this day – but can often lead people to trade what is truly virtuous – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – for what is merely selfish – the lust for things like riches, success, and fame.  Likewise, our culture’s vaunted value of freedom often collapses into its dark twin of individualism as people begin to engage in personal licentiousness instead of being devoted to their community’s liberty.  Instead of living together in a free society that respects and learns from disagreements, we demand agreement with and celebration of our individual choices and proclivities, even if they are manifestly immoral and damaging to our social fabric.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many people wind up deeply depressed.  Emptiness is the inevitable end of every self-obsessed pursuit.  We simply cannot fill ourselves with ourselves.  We need something – and, really, Someone – outside of us to fill us, which is why the apostle Paul writes:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him. (Romans 15:13)

In our frenetic search to find medical preventions and interventions for depression, let’s not forget the spiritual voids, which our culture often willingly creates and celebrates, that also contribute to the depressed state of our society.  Yes, people who are depressed need a good doctor.  But they also need a Savior.

Let’s make sure we offer both.

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July 8, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Meaning in Meaninglessness – Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Depression 1“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD” (Psalm 130:1).  We all know what it feels like to be in “the depths.”  A tragedy strikes, depression hits, or despair wreaks havoc on our hearts and our emotional states can quickly take a turn for the worse.  Just this past week, I have heard stories of great trouble, tragedy, and trial from many of our own congregation members.  Tears come to my eyes as I think of the depths they are having to endure.  As they are in “the depths,” I cry to the Lord in prayer for them.

In worship this past weekend, we continued our series “Fit for Life” by talking about our emotional health.  In my studies for this weekend’s theme, I found that for all the health problems we have physically as a nation – cancer and diabetes and swine flu and coughs and colds – our emotional health problems are even direr.  Consider these statistics:

  • According to PBS, 15 million adults, a full 8% of the US population, suffers from what is described as “major depression,” that is, depression that has become unmanageable.  And this number does not even include people 18 and younger.  There are millions more high school students who suffer from major depression.
  • Every sixteen minutes, someone commits suicide in our country.  Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death overall and the second leading cause of death among college students.  Every year, more people die from suicide than homicide.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, anti-depressants are the most prescribed drugs in America.  Of the 2.4 billion prescriptions written in 2005, 118 million of those were for anti-depressants.  Interestingly, the number of anti-depressants prescribed between 1999 and 2000 tripled.

These statistics sadly attest to how we, as a nation, are not emotionally healthy.  Emotional sickness, however, is not unique to our day and age.  Depression struck the ancients even as it strikes us.

Consider Solomon in Ecclesiastes.  He opens his book:  “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  The Hebrew word for “meaningless” is hebel, meaning, “emptiness,” or “vanity.”  Notably, the Hebrew construction reads literally, “Hebel of Hebels,” or “Vanity of Vanities.”  This is to express the superlative force of the meaninglessness of which Solomon speaks.  In other words, Solomon is not just addressing that which is meaningless, he is addressing that which is most meaningless.  And what is most meaningless?  Solomon answers, “Everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  Everything?  Yes, everything! Money, fame, power, prestige, accomplishment, wisdom, connectedness – it’s all meaningless!  Talk about a depressed outlook on life!

Blessedly, Solomon further clarifies his assertion that everything is ultimately meaningless by noting the location at which everything is meaningless: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (verse 9).  This phrase, “under the sun,” is key to Ecclesiastes and appears some twenty nine times.  It serves as a circumlocution to speak of that which is on this earth.  In other words, as long as we are on this earth and are living by the values of this earth, our lives will be ultimately devoid of meaning.  We will find ourselves trapped by “the depths” of sinfulness.  Thus, if we are to receive true, lasting meaning for our lives, we must receive it from somewhere – indeed, from someone – not under the sun.  And so Solomon finally points us to God as our source for true meaning:

What does the worker gain from his toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13)

Even though this world is full of trouble, toil, and tribulation “under the sun,” we trust in a God who delivers his gifts from above the sun – he delivers his gifts from heaven, even as James says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).  God sends his gifts from above the heavenly lights into our world.  Indeed, he even sent the good and perfect gift of his Son, the ultimate heavenly Light, to redeem our world from its misery and meaninglessness.  It is in Christ that we find transcendent meaning for our lives.

How is your emotional health?  Are you happy or sad?  Fulfilled or empty?  Elated or in despair?  Whether times are good or bad, remember that life is not hopeless “under the sun.”  For God has sent his Son from above the sun to give us meaning and purpose as we live under the sun.  And so never despair concerning your life’s meaning.  For God has given your life – and every life – meaning.  And that meaning’s name is Jesus.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Dr. Player’s ABC!

March 1, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


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