Friday, June 15, 2007

Depression: a disease or a state of mind?

Mel Avila Alarilla left an interesting comment on my last post - something that prompts me to discuss this further.

Yes, depression is a state of mind, but this state of mind is caused by a disease - or a disorder.

I think there's an unfortunate misunderstanding of what mental illness is. In my opinion keeping "physical" and "mental" illnesses as separate entities is a mistake. I believe that mental illness is just as much a physical problem as heart disease, asthma, or diabetis. In mental illness the organ that's affected is the brain. Physiological malfunction of this organ affects a person's thinking, emotions, and behavior. This occurs through no fault of the person who is ill. I feel the time must come that mental illness be no longer put in a separate category. It IS just another illness.

Can faith conquer depression? Faith will help us cope, as it does with other illnesses. But once a person has a disease like bipolar, depression and mania are inevitable, no matter how much faith he has. We can cling to scripture all we want and it will often help, but the depression and negative thinking and feeling that comes with it cannot be avoided. Neither can our highs with the elated feelings be avoided. This is the nature of the disease.

Mel says how his life changed when he began following Jesus. I can enthusiastically say mine did too. It's quite amazing where God has brought me and I'm very grateful. I'm sure I wouldn't be doing as well as I am now if it weren't for Jesus in my life. The church I belong to has been very supportive. Through my friends there, I've come to understand how great God's love is. The knowledge and assurance of that love does much to keep me well, secure, and with less fear than I would otherwise have. Sharing that love with others has taken me out of the victim role and made me strong.

...Yet I still get hopelessly depressed at times. It just happens. I went through two months of it only a while ago. I struggled, I prayed, and my friends prayed with me. But it had to run its course.

I must say, though, that experiencing these moods is not all bad. The suffering is misery - yes. But going through this suffering is what helps me understand others who suffer. I know a language that those who have it easy cannot understand. This language helps me connect with many people. If I didn't go through depression once in a while I might forget. I would perhaps lose the ability to have compassion.

I'm not sorry that God made me the way he did - bipolar and all. I know he did it for a reason. He has given me work to do that I can do precisely because I have this disease. And I love this work. Facilitating Living Room, the faith-based support group for people with mood disorders, is pure joy. I like to refer to the way I feel after meetings as "holy joy." There's nothing else like it. Hard to believe, I know, but true.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Very nicely written. Maybe God gave you this illness so that you could help the church address the issue of mental illness. You're certainly making an important contribution.


marie said...

What a wonderful post. I too believe that depression, bi-polar and all other forms of mental breakdown are physical. The brain is a complex organ and should be studied more.

I am glad your faith has gotten you to a better place in your life. I also agree no matter how much faith a person has depression and bi-polar episodes can strike at any time.

I do support your efforts on trying to educate the church about mentall illness. I hope you will see the fruits of your labor.

Mel Avila Alarilla said...

I say amen to your post. To God be the glory. I respect each and every statement you have made and I admire you more for your stand on these issues. Thanks for the generous post you made in reaction to my comment to your previous post. God bless you and your worthy endeavors.

BamaGal said...

I detest the use of the term mental illness---I much prefer the proper term of brain disorder---but alas the general public when faced with the word s brain disorder immediately think of a tumor or things along those lines---they just can not grasp the concept of chemical imbalances leading to misfiring of neurons....

when someone makes the mistake of telling me "it is all in my head"---I say yeah---my brain

"mental illness" IS a physical illness just like any other---we can no more "shake it off" than a diabetic can tell there pancreas to produce insulin better

I remember the interview Tom Cruise gave when he said there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance---hello Tom---what the sam hill do you think causes diabetes---a chemical imbalance----sheesh..

Anyhoo---it is up to us who deal with this to fight for our rights which is why I'm such an active letter writer to my congressmen--especially with the insurance parity bill in the works which will force insurance companies to treat "mental illness" as the illness it is---not a separate category all together

okay---now I'll come down off my soapbox.....

Sarah said...

marja just to let you know i changed addresses to

and people in my church will not give me any support with bipolar, they said that the christian bipolars they knew did not have my type of attitutde.

that killed me inside a little bit but i'll get over it.

Dream Writer said...

Hi Marja - I agree with your post. I believe that *We* discussed this before together about the Brain being an Organ like a heart and so on.

Body and Mind are connected that is for sure...and believing in and trusting God is a Positive thing...God is good and positive and I truly believe if we surround ourselves with the Positive we, as bipolars would be better off.

A lot of people who have bipolar tend to continue to do things that bring them down - it is not always our "State of Mind" or the way we think, but it is also about our actions in our drinking, drugs, reckless behavior that will keep us from getting better.

As far as Mental Illness VS. Physical Illness..well...that could be a discussion of its own.

I think Bipolar is both a - Mental illness and a Physical illness...Like I said Body and mind are connected.

marja said...

Thank you all for your encouraging comments.

Sarah: I'll respond on your blog.

zawadi said...

You are a Really GREAT writer if nobody hasn't told you yet. You said this all so well. I accidentally deleted my blog but don't think
I didn't forget the first person to comment on my Blog :)
Glad to hear you are feeling better :).
I'm still learning how to just put down in words what I am feeling and thinking, and blogging and commenting helps...Reading Blogs like yours helps ..thanks