Depression, sometimes called “the common cold of mental illness” because of its prevalence, is as serious a problem as it is widespread. So said psychologist David Dozois at the annual conference of Disability Concerns held April 25 in Kitchener, Ontario. Disability Concerns helps churches include people with disabilities in congregational life.
Depression affects every aspect of a person’s life. Dozois noted that it doesn’t reflect a lack of commitment to God, and those who experience depression shouldn’t blame themselves.
While feeling “blue” is a common response to negative life events, clinical depression is more severe and lasts longer. “It can be very impairing,” Dozois said. In addition to feeling sad or experiencing a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, a person may experience changes in sleep, appetite, and activity; loss of energy; decreased decision-making ability; and/or feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and self-blame.
“The bad news is that there are many pathways into depression. The good news is there are lots of ways out,” Dozois said, explaining that many types of treatments are available.
Dozois focused on cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which those suffering from depression are helped to monitor and test the truth of their thoughts, especially negative ones, to try to influence mood and behavior. They learn to avoid using a lens of false negativity to filter how they see themselves. “God wants us to see the truth about who we are,” said Dozois.
Depressed people can get caught in a vicious circle where they withdraw from life, which results in low energy, which leads to more withdrawal. “Try to reverse it,” said Dozois. Paradoxically, becoming active often reduces fatigue and clarifies thinking.
Sharon Penlington, a Roman Catholic paramedic from Kitchener who regularly encounters people in difficult moments, hoped that the conference would help her choose her words carefully. “I seek first to understand,” she said.
“Depression affects the whole family. It has a ripple effect,” said Sara Van Luyk, a conference participant from Holland Marsh, Ontario, who appreciated hearing a Christian perspective on the subject.
Len Bakelaar, a regional advocate for Disability Concerns, observed that over the years many disability issues have been resolved. “At one time we had to get buildings up to speed. Now we deal with depression and aging. The need is still there. It just changes its face.”