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The Effects of Depression and the Universal Remedy

September 16, AD2013 19 Comments

\"Robbe

On December 8,1992, an article appeared in the science section of the New York Times under the headline \”A Rising Cost of Modernity:  Depression.\” The piece tells of a report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, which delivered the results of a long-term, international, multi-generational study of depression. The main point was – those born after 1955 are three times as likely as their grandparents\’ generation to suffer from depression. And while women are thought to be two or three times as likely as men to get depressed, the article concludes that \”the gap between men and women in rates of depression is narrowing among younger generations, with the risk in young men beginning to rise to levels seen in women.\” At the end, the article acknowledges that the increased incidence of depression could be partly explained by a greater openness about the topic, but the statistics are so alarming that many experts think that our willingness to discuss it is not much of a factor.

In a more recent study, an estimated 121 million people worldwide are currently living with some form of depression. Of these individuals, fewer than 25% have access to adequate treatment.  The World Health Organization considers depression the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide, and expects it to become the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020. In the meantime, evidence would seem to bear out the point that a lot of people are either truly depressed, or they believe themselves to be. The question that came into my mind after perusing these statistics was, How is it possible that so many people are so miserable? As a Christian of course, this should not have been too hard to understand, as Matthew 7:13-14 states:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. 

And, of course, living with a fallen nature, we humans are actually inclined toward  wretchedness. But personally, I know there are people who actually seem to thrive on feeling badly. They enter twelve-step fellowships so that they can find others afflicted with the same demons: alcoholism, narcotics addiction, eating disorders, and a plethora of others. After being around AA for over a decade, I have noticed that while the program helps many get and stay sober, it can also be a place where sick people can find their equally sick soul mates, if you will. And, like the blind leading the blind, disaster usually follows. I specifically remember a meeting I attended, where a young man stated: \”Women should stick with women. If you cross over into the proverbial 13th step with a member of the opposite sex, you will soon have another god.\” So I learned quickly after converting to Catholicism, that while I spend a fair amount of time in AA meetings, I know that what has helped me the most with my own \”demons\” has been the sacraments within the Mass. Even the famous psychologist Carl Jung once said that if everyone was Catholic, he would not have anyone seeking him for psychotherapy, because of the Sacrament of Confession. Yes, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that healing. 

Many think medication is the answer, while anti-depressants seem to be a panacea for the asking, I would never discredit medication for those who truly need it. Indeed after the compelling evidence I found, there is indication that maybe all this drug prescribing is not an over-aggressive response, but actually a sane reaction on the part of doctors onto a whole slew of people for whom simple existence is fraught with intense misery. Who am I to say that anti-depressives are over-prescribed? Maybe it isn\’t prescribed enough. But I know that any kind medication alone, or self-help groups alone is not enough. Without the healing benefits of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, people are being short-changed whether they know it or not. And while we live in a quick-fix society with little tolerance for pain of any sort, it seems fairly reasonable to want to anesthetize ourselves in the most expedient way. But medication by itself is only preventing many people who are not clinically depressed from finding any real antidote.

In the case of my own depression, I have gone from being certain that its origins were in bad biology, to a more flexible belief — after much therapy — that after an accumulation of traumatic life events made my head such a horrible thing to be stuck in, my brain\’s chemicals started to agree. Of course, there\’s no way to know this for certain, as the anecdotal evidence leads only to a list of chicken-and-egg types of questions. Regardless of how I got started on my path to the dark side, by the time I got treatment, the problem was certainly chemical (as well as spiritual). What many people do not understand is that the cause-and-effect relationship in mental disorders is a two-way shuttle.

It\’s not just that a simple chemical imbalance can make you depressed. It\’s that years and years of depression caused by external events (exogenous depression), can actually mess up your internal chemistry so much that you need a drug to get it working correctly again. Had I been treated properly at the onset of my depression, and had I known about the healing benefits of the sacraments, perhaps its mere kindling would not have turned into a nightmarish psychic bonfire, that has only in recent years subsided as I have grown stronger in my faith. When I ran on \’survival mode\’, and after years and years of bad habits, of being attracted to the wrong kind of people, and responding to every bad mood with impulsive behavior, this way of living turned me into a person who had no idea how to function within the boundaries of the normal world. It has taken me so long to learn to live a life where depression and addictive behavior are not a constant resort, and in their place, peace is becoming familiar, thanks be to our amazing God.

On April 8, 1994, Kurt Cobain shot himself in the head and was found dead in his Seattle home. His suicide was quickly reduced by much of the media into an example of a more general generational malaise gone completely amok. References were made to \”the bullet that shot through a generation.\” Cobain\’s suicide quickly came to be seen as greatly symbolic. There is a part of me that understands why. A peak moment in the depression culture arrived with the tremendous success of Nirvana, whose hit single \”Smells Like Teen Spirit\” was a call to apathy, with its lyrical demand, Here we are now, entertain us. In fact, the band\’s whole album, Nevermind, seemed to be a long list of the many things that they didn\’t care about. I remember thinking that American youth must be really angry to have turned something like that into a hit. And at long last, all of the miserable majority who could never relate to bands like Bon Jovi in the first place, went into record stores and demanded to buy music that spoke to them. So, I understand why people saw Kurt Cobain\’s death as symbolic. Nirvana\’s popularity either brought in or coincided with some definite and striking cultural moments.

However, by the time he was alone in his garage apartment with a shotgun in his hand with intent of doing himself in, his actions were far beyond any kind of cultural momentum we can associate with the times. Poet Sylvia Plath killed herself in 1963, before there were slackers or even hippies. She killed herself because she was depressed, the same as Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and countless others. No one shoots himself in the head in the head because he\’s had a bad hunting season, or because some national news source says bad things about him. Depression of this kind strikes down deep. The fact that depression seems to be everywhere to some extent right now can be both the cause and result of a level of societal malaise that so many feel. Once someone is a clinical case and on the verge of suicide, his story is absolutely and completely his own.

There is a level of self obsession in suicide as well. Christian Recording Artist Rebecca St. James said that once when she was in California, she was asked in the question-and-answer time of her concert, \”What do you think of Kurt Cobain\’s suicide?\” She basically answered that Kurt Cobain was an example of someone who absolutely lived for self. On her webpage in the devotional area (1994), she said:

\”His death was the ultimate end to his own selfishness. When we decide to live for ourselves rather than choosing to live God\’s way, that\’s exactly what we do – condemn ourselves to destruction. To some extent, selfishness always leads to death of some sort. If you allow selfishness to have its way, you are really letting yourself slowly die inside. God\’s way is life – not death.\”

I concur, and am so very grateful that my parents had me baptized, and that I was exposed to Christianity at a young age. My conversion to Catholicism 12 years ago saved my life. Sadly Kurt Cobain and others never found that light. Every day I thank God that I did.

Filed in: Art, Faith, Life, Social

About the Author:

I am first and foremost a devout Roman Catholic. I am also a happily married mother of four children. I graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism, and recently graduated from St. Mary's University @ San Antonio with a Master's degree in Community Counseling. As an active member of my parish, I am the pro-life coordinator who loves our Catholic faith, and is constantly seeking to grow as close to our Lord as possible. My favorite quote is: "You can do no great things, just small things with great love." - Blessed Mother Teresa

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  • Phil Dzialo

    I am a little miffed that you you quote CJ Jung in reference to confession (without direct attribution to source) . First, I am sure most Catholics have never read Jung, Second, Carl Jung was no fan of Christianity:

    “I imagine a far finer and more comprehensive task for [psychoanalysis] than alliance with an ethical fraternity. I think we must give it time to infiltrate into people from many centers, to revivify among intellectuals a feeling for symbol and myth, ever so gently to transform Christ back into the soothsaying god of the vine, which he was, and in this way absorb those ecstatic instinctual forces of Christianity for the one purpose of making the cult and the sacred myth what they once were – a drunken feast of joy where man regained the ethos and holiness of an animal.”

    C. G. Jung quoted by Richard Noll. The Jung Cult. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 188.

    • Robbe Sebesta

      Regardless of whether or not Jung was a fan of Christianity, I think it is very telling that a revered psychotherapist admitted that the effects of confession are very healing. I am not sure why it would be important that “most Catholics” have read about anyone for them to be quoted or discussed. And the specific quote from him (from one of my professors in grad school) is, “Carl Jung commented one time that very few of his patients in Vienna
      were Catholic. “They have confession,” he said, “so they have no need
      for me.” I have a Master’s degree in Counseling, and when we studied him at length, this is one specific thing I remember. Being a Catholic, I thought it was awesome quite frankly. I’m not sure what could have possibly “miffed” you, but I thank you for your comments.

    • Phil Dzialo

      I have an ABD in psychology ( and it’s irrelevant)! If Jung says what you say he said, there must be a source, reference, etc. Please provide….the source and context.

    • Robbe Sebesta

      Phil, I would love to, but as I stated, he was quoted by one of my professors at St. Mary’s University @ San Antonio. I wrote it down because Jung was not a Catholic, nor Christian, and me being Catholic, I thought it was powerful, and still do. I can try to find out where Jung stated this though as I have all of my notes and books from grad school. I’m not sure why you’re so against this specific quote, but I can get back to you. And, by the way, I know it’s irrelevant, but I was showing you where I heard this quote from Jung…that’s the only reason I stated I have a Master’s degree.

    • Robbe Sebesta

      I found a couple of links that provide context of Jung’s quote:

      http://stmaryvalleybloom.org/confession.html

      Here is an exchange from someone asking about this quote on EWTN:EWTN Catholic Q&A

      On Confession –

      Question from Frank Vangeli on 06-24-2005:

      Dear Father, Father Mullady the other night with Father Pacwa said that the
      Psychologist Carl Jung had a regard for confession. Only 2% of his
      patients were good Catholics who went to confession regularly. I believe
      he thought that if more people went to confession he would not have
      many patients.

      Thank you, God bless you,

      Frank

      Answer by Fr. Robert J. Levis on 06-25-2005:

      Frank,
      Right on! Yes, I heard that Jung (in spite of his essential problems
      with the Faith) admired the psychological state of Catholic penitents, and wished more would attend.
      Fr. Bob Levis

    • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos
  • John Darrouzet

    Jung, among other things, was a Gnostic. However, it is interesting that even he would admit the true value of confession.

    Your post is helpful especially because it takes us from efforts of materialists to drug us out of depression, to psychotherapists who would try to adjust our minds, to the real deal of Christianity’s healing powers: the sacraments.

    Soren Kierkegaard, in his book “The Sickness Unto Death” [ http://www.pinterest.com/pin/137500594843988531/ ] describes how depression is a form of despair and how despair itself comes in various forms, but in sequence.

    First there is a form of despair that arises among those who are not aware that they have a self. They are the unconscious ones, a friend calls them “asleep.” We certainly see this in pre-teens.

    Second there is a form of despair that arises among those who realize they have a self but do not like theirs for any number of reasons. Surely teenagers of all genders face this difficulty in finding themselves. They prefer to be someone else, especially someone other than their parents require them or want them to be.They thus experiment with themselves.

    So far, so good. But there is a kicker here. The third form of despair is like a blind corner. You don’t see it coming until it hits you.

    This third form of despair is wanting only to be oneself. Listen a moment to Billy Joel’s song “My Life” [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngGgy62lMj0 ]

    Kierkegaard’s advice is exactly what happened to you. To get through each kind of despair, one must make every effort to “ground oneself in the power that constitutes you.”

    Some are blessed to find the Trinity as that power. Others still search.

    Your post offers hope to all of us.

    • John Darrouzet

      That should read: “…ground oneself transparently in the power that constitutes you…”

    • Robbe Sebesta

      Thank you John…..I’m baffled at anyone thinking I was throwing stones or trying to do anything BUT, as you said, offer hope to others suffering from depression. And yes, Christ IS the ultimate healer. Thank you too for your reference to Billy Joel….I’ve always been a huge fan of his.

  • Francesca Romana

    I am disappointed in this article. I lived through years of untreated depression within the ranks of fundamentalism because it was considered a sign of a sinful lifestyle. Their only treatment for depression was to get right with God.

    I converted to Catholicism and attend mass weekly and confession at least once a month with a regular confessor. I thank God that I’m able to be a Catholic and able to receive treatment, including medication, for my depression without having to deal with being shamed.
    Being pro-life means believing that all life has intrinsic value — even mine! Treatment for depression is an “ordinary means” of life-saving medical care for me. When someone is blind, has a cold, or has cancer, we don’t shame. We realize that illness just a side-effect of living in a fallen world. Yet, when there’s a disorder in someone’s neurochemistry, there is a tendency to cast the first stone.

    Author, please remember that you are neither a priest nor a medical professional. Please keep that in mind before attempting to attach shame or sinful roots to a psychological disorder. Remember the question posed to Christ: “who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Our Lord’s reply: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”

    • Robbe Sebesta

      There is no need to remind me that I am neither a priest nor a medical professional. I do not claim to be either. I am writing of my own experience as one who has suffered from depression, and who knows first hand that clinical treatment alone can only do so much. As a Catholic, the sacraments are healing because God himself is the ultimate healer. Being this is a Catholic forum, for me to claim anything less would be a lie. And I never said that sin is a cause for punishment, nor would I ever “cast the first stone.” If you knew anything about my past – from where it is I come – to my present, you would understand that what I meant to convey was compassion for those of us who suffer without ever knowing the healing benefits of God. Attaching shame and sinful roots is about as far as you can get from what I was trying to say. I don’t need anyone to help me feel shame, or bad about myself, as I do a far better job than anyone. Thank you for your comments.

    • james

      In England, unlike here, there are tremendous advances in clinical
      depresion treatment. As a case worker for a population very prone
      to this diagnosis I know first hand how inadequite psychopharmacology
      is in the long run. Because the FDA won’t approve a method using
      ones own recumbant RNA wfith a 90% success rate in treatiing this
      insidious disorder millions suffer. On another note, unless one finds
      ones higher power, whatever a person conceives this to be ( as long
      as its not another person) the human spirit cannot thrive in general.
      Being Catholic has an advantage and it is Reconcilliation. So too is
      DBT treatment but theose skilled in this are few for such a great need.

    • Robbe Sebesta

      Thank you James. I hold you in high regard being a case worker. You must have incredible patience and empathy.

    • james

      Thank you. Like faith, it is a gift so I can’t take one shred of
      credit.

  • Anna Rose Meeds

    Yes, it is important to rely on God in depression or any mental illness. Please however remember it is not a choice to have clinical depression. Also, we can not judge those who commit suicide. Is it wrong? Yes. However, until you are at that breaking point, you do not understand. Only God truly does. After reading your post several times, I better understood what you were saying and agree with most of it. Throughout my depression and other illnesses, I have continued to rely on the sacraments as well as lots of therapy and some medication. Just like any other illness, you need to take care of your physical, emotionally, mental, and spiritual self.

    • Robbe Sebesta

      Anna, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I would be the very last person to judge anyone who was pushed to suicide, for I find that to be the saddest death there is (imo). You’re right too in that depression is like any other illness. If you treat the symptoms alone, you never will recover fully. Every aspect of yourself needs to be healed.

  • Anabelle Hazard

    Great article. I too think a lot of depression can be healed by faith.

    • Robbe Sebesta

      Thank you Anabelle! I know faith alone can’t always do it, if there is a chemical imbalance going on. But I know that medication, without enhancing the spirit, only keeps folks going for so long.