WHAT IS DEPRESSION ANYWAY?
Having given us eight reasons why we should study depression, two principles to govern how we study depression, and three extreme positions regarding the cause of depression, Murray goes on in chapter 3 to tackle the question: what is depression?
There are two reasons Murray says that we should be concerned about getting the answer to this question right. The first is physical and the second spiritual. The physical reason is, “that only by knowing the symptoms can I know if others or I are suffering from depression and then seek appropriate help”(kindle loc. 398). The spiritual reason “is that many who have the symptoms of depression, without identifying them as such, reason, ‘If I have these thoughts and feelings, I cannot be a Christian!’”.
In seeking to answer the question “What is depression?”Murray looks at five areas of our lives: our life situation, our thoughts, our feelings, our bodies, and our behavior.
It is often the case that we fail to link feelings of depression with life events such as loss of a job, family difficulties, or financial problems. Because of this we fail to recognize how providential events can negatively affect our mental and emotional health. According to Murray, this is why one of the most fundamental ways we can help a depressed person is to trace their sense of depression (particularly their thoughts and feelings) to events in their lives. This is often painful and runs the risk of exposing the chinks in our armor. However, it is often the case that, even though there may be a genetic component or tendency to depression, there is a “providential trigger”involved. In fact, sometimes our negative reaction to a life event will be delayed by months. “Consequently”, says Murray, “we often need an objective view of our lives. Independent people such as a doctor, a counselor, or a pastor can help us look at our lives more objectively.”
Because one of the most obvious symptoms of depression are the unhelpful thoughts of a depressed person, Murray focuses on ten false thought patterns that reflect and contribute to the symptoms of depression. They are as follows:
False extremes. This is a tendency to evaluate personal qualities in a strict, “black and white” way. This is all or nothing type of thinking. For example, if you make one mistake in cooking a meal, you are a total disaster. If you have one sinful thought, you conclude you have fallen away from the faith.
False Generalization. This occurs after we experience a very unpleasant event and wrongly conclude that it will then happen repeatedly. False generalization might happen when a love interest rejects us and we believe it will just keep on happening. It happens when we seek to share the gospel and it is rejected and so we believe it will always be rejected.
False filter. This occurs when we are only able to see the negative side of any given situation. Everything that is positive is filtered out. For example, you’re running for a spot on the school board and you get 35 out of 40 votes (obviously a majority), but you can only think about the 5 votes you didn’t get. Or, you hear something in a sermon you didn’t like or agree with, and that’s all you can talk about it.
False transformation. This is another aspect of depression where we take a neutral, or positive experience and turn it into a negative one. This might happen when someone compliments you, but you conclude they are lying because they are trying to get something from you. It may happen when you are encouraged by a verse in the Scriptures, but you are convinced the devil is trying to trick you.
False mind reading. This happens when we are convinced we know what someone thinks about us, even when it is contrary to the facts. In this scenario, you might get concerned because a good friend hasn’t talked to you in awhile, and so you are convinced he no longer likes you. This might happen in church when someone who you used to hang out with a lot doesn’t talk much with you anymore and so you decide she’s upset with you about something.
False fortune telling. Here we believe that things will turn out badly for us, and so we treat it as an already established reality. We expect things will turn out horribly and that produces an attitude of hopelessness. For example, you are certain that you will always be depressed, though research shows that most people eventually recover from depression.
False lens. This type of thinking occurs when we view our mistakes and fears through a sort of mental magnifying glass in which they are magnified to devastating consequences. This type of thinking might happen when we have conflict with a friend and determine they are simply going to end the friendship. This might happen when the sins of our past, though covered by the blood of Christ, lead us down a regular past of self-condemnation and fear of God’s judgment.
False “shoulds”. When our lives are dominated by “shoulds” or “oughts”, in relationship to ourselves or others, we are easily led down a path of depression. This type of thinking leads to false expectations for ourselves and others and causes frustration and resentment when others or we fail. This can happen to moms and their expectations of what a good mother is like. This can happen to Christians who feel as if they need to be at every prayer meeting, worship service, and Bible study, as well as serving on as many church ministry committees as possible.
False responsibility. This type of thinking is marked by blaming ourselves when something goes wrong, even when there’s no basis for thinking this way. Parents might feel this way when their children don’t get excellent grades and they conclude they are horrible parents. The real reason may be classroom dynamics or maybe even a learning disability. Parents who have children who have walked away from the faith often conclude it is all their fault, despite evidence that they were faithful in raising their child in the ways of God.
After listing these false ways of thinking, Dr. Murray is quick to add a couple of additional thoughts. First, he reminds us that false thinking patterns are compatible with being a Christian. One can think wrongly about their situation and life and still be a believer. However, he adds, secondly, that these false patterns of thinking will have negative effects on our feelings, our bodies, our behavior, and our souls, and usually in that order. Third, Murray says that one of the first steps in breaking the cycle of depression is recognizing these false thinking patters for what they are: false. And finally, he notes that though there is little or nothing we can do to change our providence (our life situation), we can change the way we think about our life.
Unhelpful thought patterns, Murray reminds us, will produce unhelpful emotions and feelings. If you are always thinking the future is bleak, that your problems are insurmountable, that nobody likes you, you’re going to feel hopeless, helpless, and unloved.
In light of this Murray looks at some of the emotional markers of depression and encourages us to examine the area of feelings in order to consider whether our emotions are related to a depressive tendency, or illness. Murray gets at these markers with six questions.
Do you feel overwhelming sadness? Everyone is sad on occasion, but sadness connected to depression is crushing and unrelenting. It can show itself in lots of crying or even bouts of unstoppable sobbing. In addition, nothing brings happiness anymore, not even those people or activities once did.
Do you feel angry with God or others? This is typical in depressed men. They display an irrational and deep-rooted irritability and anger.
Do you feel your life is worthless? Even though others highly value you and your work, you feel the exact opposite. Even more you might feel like your life is a burden to others and not a blessing.
Do you feel extreme anxiety or panic? Anxiety often goes along with depression because the depression person not only experiences fear, but feels absolutely unable to cope with their fear.
Do you feel suicidal or do you have a longing to die? For a depressed person, sometimes death seems like it would be a relief compared to the misery they are enduring in life.
There are a myriad of bodily symptoms that accompany depression. Prov. 17:22 says, “A merry heart does good like medicine: but a broken spirit dries out the bones.” Doctors regularly encounter people whose physical illness is rooted in their depressed thoughts and feelings. Depressed people often do not sleep, gain weight, have digestive issues, lose their appetite, have body aches, and feel out of breath.
Behavior and Activity
Murray points out that, as one might expect, the impact of depression on our thoughts, feelings, and bodies influence what we do or don’t do. For many, they stop doing things they enjoy, and they may even stop doing things they are good at. They may separate themselves from friends and fellowship at church, and stop hobbies completely. But not only do they stop doing things that are good for them, they start doing things that are bad for them: staying indoors, abusing alcohol, or pushing people away.
In the next chapter Murray tackles more directly the causes of depression!