How Thinking Contributes to Depression: Part 1
Some have said that Americans are currently facing a mental health crisis, and the statistics gathered by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America provide strong validation of such a claim. Counseling centers from coast to coast are seeing scores of individuals – including children and adolescents – who are presenting with symptoms of depression and anxiety (among other mental health issues) and the numbers are on the rise. With such a prevalence of distress, it is imperative that help is available for those in need. While professional intervention is often warranted for the treatment of unipolar depression, sufferers would benefit from a greater understanding of factors that contribute to or maintain their depressive symptoms.
Many people tend to attribute their depression to undesirable circumstances or life events. While a person’s environment and context can certainly trigger low mood, it’s often how we think about or respond to our circumstances that determine whether a person’s low mood becomes something more persistent and distressing. Cognitive behavior therapy, an evidence-based approach to treating anxiety and depression developed by Aaron Beck, is built upon this assertion that negative thoughts both result from and contribute to depression. Albert Ellis, the father of rational-emotive therapy, likewise focused on a person’s thoughts and perceptions. “People are not disturbed by things,” said Ellis, “but rather by their view of things.”
But what does Scripture have to say about any of this? The Bible does not speak explicitly, of course, about any mode of therapy, but it does seem to give implicit support for the cognitive model of how perceptions influence experience. Take Genesis chapters 37-50, for example. We learn about a young man named Joseph (with the multicolored coat) who was loved by his father but despised by his brothers. Joseph’s brothers were so sick of their little brother that they ambushed him and left him for dead in a road-side hole in the ground. Joseph was found and then sold into slavery to Potiphar, accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife, and imprisoned wrongly. But it’s not the rising action or redemptive ending that makes Joseph’s story so spellbinding to me. Joseph’s response to these events are what keep me telling his story. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t seek revenge. He didn’t even ask what he had done to deserve all this suffering. Why? Because of how he perceived his circumstances. When looking back on the events that led to his eventual position in Pharaoh’s household, Joseph told his brothers, “Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:8). Rather than taking his brothers’ betrayal at face value, Joseph saw the bigger picture at play: God was using Joseph as a type, or symbol, of redemption. Had Joseph perceived his situation from a more negative stance, he surely would have become angry and resentful or deeply, deeply depressed. Joseph’s perception about the events had more influence over his experience than the events themselves.
Proverbs 23:7 also affirms the reality that thoughts and perceptions influence man’s experience and behavior: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (NASB). We can also exercise control over our thinking according to the Apostle Paul by (1) taking our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5); (2) deliberately thinking upon things that are true, noble, right, pure, and lovely and that as a result, we will experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:8-9); and (3) by renewing our minds and thus being transformed and able to discern the will of God (Romans 12:2). Nowhere does Scripture teach that we are to believe or leave unchallenged every thought or belief that floods our minds!
If you are a victim of “stinkin’ thinkin’”, you’re not alone and you’re certainly not beyond help. You can start by paying closer attention to your thoughts. Sometimes we recognize how we’re feeling before we register what we’re thinking. Whenever you notice a shift in your mood, then, ask yourself, “What just went through my mind?” Simply by paying more attention to our thinking, we often can separate ourselves from our thoughts enough to gain some helpful perspective.
Sometimes, we find ourselves needing more professional intervention. Christian counseling can be a powerful resource in gaining mastery over your mind and emotions. If you would like assistance in developing strategies for coping with depression and learning how your thinking might be contributing to the problem, please call and set up an appointment today.