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Holiday Depression: How to Copecomment (0)

November 30, 2000

By Morris Chalfant

In the year 1808 a gaunt, sad-faced man entered the office of Dr. James Hamilton in Manchester, England. The doctor, struck by the melancholy appearance of his visitor, inquired, “Sir, are you sick?”

“Yes, Doctor, sick of a mortal illness.”

“What illness?”

“I’m frightened of the terror of the world around me. I’m depressed by life, I can find no happiness anywhere, nothing amuses me, and I have nothing to live for. If you can’t help me, Doctor, I will kill myself.”

The doctor counseled the man, saying, “Your illness is not mortal. “You only need to get out of yourself. You need to laugh; you need to get some pleasure out of life.”

“Well, what shall I do?”

“Go to the circus tonight and see Grimaldi, the clown. Grimaldi is the funniest man alive. He’ll cure you.”
A spasm of pain swept across the poor man’s face and he said, “Doctor, don’t joke with me. I am Grimaldi!”

Depression chooses no particular age and is especially exaggerated during the holidays. It has been recognized in children, youth and middle-agers as well as in the elderly. Unfortunately, many sufferers never receive proper treatment. Some fear being labeled “crazy.”

Others are unable to find help because of the lack of mental health services geared to the older population.

Depressed men and women who do seek treatment are sometimes misdiagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease — a form of dementia characterized by irreversible mental decline — or are simply written off as “old cranks.”

Depression is one of the greatest problems faced by the elderly. They expend much energy coping with the usual losses that occur with advanced years, and supportive therapy is seldom offered to the elderly.

There are frequent references to caring for widows in the Scriptures, but these suggestions are not always carried out.

Harold Ivan Smith writes, “Our ‘Call me if you need anything’ promises during the funeral period sound appropriate but the time when widows and widowers most need our help is often three weeks, three months or three years after the flowers have gone.”

We assume the pain of loss is not so bad for elderly people. We treat a young woman whose husband dies quite differently from the older widow whose pain we are inclined to minimize. Sometimes we expect the elderly to be depressed because we mistakenly consider old age to be a depressing time.

Depression in old age can be a terrible problem. But it need not be.

When the condition is treated, the recovery rate is high. Research is providing new clues to the causes of depression, particularly in older people. New methods of psychotherapy and drug treatment are proving extremely effective. All of this has challenged some persistent but outmoded notions.

The great psychiatrist Victor Frankl says traditional psychoanalysis is at once too retrospective and introspective. That is, the depressed patient spends too much time digging into his past and inspecting his inner thoughts.

Frankl’s approach is to focus on the future, to help the patient find meaning in the next phase of his life.

Depression must be fought with spiritual weapons aided by common sense. Common sense tells us if we are depressed we should not spend time needlessly alone, but seek company. It tells us a true confidant is worth his or her weight in gold, that a burden shared is only half a burden.

It tells us that hard work is an effective antidote to depression, for it is impossible to be totally absorbed in two things at once. Common sense shows us that physical activity will release tension. It teaches that personal pain may be transmuted into some form of creative service that will bless not only the ones who receive the service but the giver as well.

When depression moves in to try to control our spirits, we must immediately and deliberately take action to dispel depression from our hearts. The ultimate secret of triumph over depression was shown by the psalmist. When he raised his troublesome question, God helped him raise the right answer: “Hope thou in God.”

God and the confidence we have in Him — these are our final bastions of defense against onrushing discouragement.

-God, who cannot be defeated, no matter how long His purposes may tarry.

-God, who takes the brokenness of life and shapes its tatters into a robe of beauty, its shattered remnants into a vessel of honor.

-God, who lets the powers of evil do their worst to the best that ever came into this world, and then beats the devil’s victory into a permanent pulp by raising a cross and opening a grave.

When all else has been tried for the relief of our depression — a medical checkup, an honest self-analysis, a time of counseling with friends. A courageous attempt at selfless service — in the end, we must simply stake everything on God. Then we cannot lose.

Depression may come — indeed, it will come occasionally — but it need not and should not be habitual. Try to find out the causes of your depression. Use common sense about your body’s condition and uncommon sense about the needs of your soul.

Remember the words of our Lord: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.”

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