SOURCE: Dr. Henry Cloud
Question: Over the last couple of years, I’ve had many days when I get down about life, but I don’t know why. God has truly blessed me, so I don’t understand why I feel this way. There’s a history of clinical depression in my family, but I don’t want to over-dramatize what might be the “blues.” What are the signs that this could be something serious, and what could a counselor do for me if I decided to go that route?
Answer: It’s important to know when you have the “blues” and when you are truly depressed and need help. Let’s look at the dynamics of each.
If you have the “blues” about something specific, you can pinpoint why you feel the way you do and then take the appropriate action – talking the problem over with a friend, working through the relationship issues that are causing the feelings, moving on to a new relationship, developing spiritual disciplines, expressing your feelings more, starting an exercise routine, and so forth. There’s a reason, there’s an answer, and you implement it – with the support of people who care about you and God’s guidance, you will feel better with a little time and a great deal of effort.
Overcoming a breakup, for example, is something you can recognize and deal with. It takes time, support, effort, and some changes, but you move through it. Depression is much different. When it comes, it’s difficult, as you say, to figure out why you feel so low. In fact, often the feelings are contradictory to the circumstances of your life. You said you feel down even though you know you are blessed. That would be an example.
At other times, a person who is depressed can point to a precipitating event, like a breakup or loss of a job, but normal bounce-back techniques fail. The situation progresses beyond the normal “blues” and becomes something bigger than one’s ability to work through. Nothing helps lighten the heavy mood, and a feeling of powerlessness prevails. This sounds a little like you.
In addition, there’s a long list of symptoms associated with depression. A depressed mood, a loss of interest or pleasure in things that normally bring joy, weight gain or loss when not trying, sleep problems, restlessness or feeling slowed down, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness and/or inappropriate guilt, and thoughts of death are just some of the symptoms. If someone has five or more of these in a two-week period, a qualified clinician will usually diagnose depression. The illness could be biological in nature, and the person might need medication to regain balance, especially if there’s a family history.
Counseling can also reveal personal dynamics that may be contributing to depression. In this case, even if no medication is needed, there are practical but highly effective steps a counselor can provide that you may not have thought of yourself.
Understand that with a family history of clinical depression, it’s likely that you would benefit from some counseling. There are possible relational dynamics you learned that might be contributing to your situation. A counselor with experience in this area can help you see these flawed patterns and replace them with healthy ones.
It does sound as if your situation has gotten a little past what you can do for yourself, so I encourage you to talk with someone qualified to give you the answers you seek. Ask your pastor or doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. The up side is many times when people enter counseling because of depression, they grow in many other ways as well.