Anxiety and depression are plaguing 21st Century culture. It’s an epidemic.
We have never had better medications to provide relief, never had better therapies available. Health care, thorough physicians, EAP programs for free counseling, nurses, and other professionals has never been as accessible.There is no world war, most of us do not have a terminal illness. Employment is at an all time low. So what is the problem? Is there any hope?
Day after day people tell me in counseling that they have been dealing with anxiety and depression for years, even decades. They have been on antidepressants literally for generations. They believe that they have a biological issue, some sort of genetic flaw, though no one can identify when or how they were tested to confirm the neurochemical prognosis. Many people, at least in my part of the world have seen a psychiatrist who, after ten or twenty minutes, has diagnosed them (without any evidence-based analysis) as having a depressive or anxiety disorder. I have asked these individual what tests were run, what scale was used; did you even fill out a Burns Depression Questionnaire, or a PHQ-9, or a HAM-A/D, a GAD-7? Anything? Did you share the story of your past few years, describe the emotional and psychological stressors?
Twenty minutes every month and a prescription for an antidepressant, a benzodiazepine, and a sleeping medication. Many, many of my patients have been taking these same medications for a decade or more and have no idea if they do anything substantive.
The hard truth is that taking medication for a generalized anxiety or depressive disorder is only a small part of the solution (though perhaps necessary); and by themselves do little to address the important questions. Dealing with anxiety and depression requires actually dealing with the key causes, issues and effects, and takes a tremendous amount of learning, transition, and vigilance.
I tell patients that the tools they need to address these issues are incredibly simple to learn and very very difficult to master. This requires a level of humility and dedication most people are not willing to give. If you have a major issue with anxiety or depression it is going to take major work. But with the right tools, a counselor that doesn’t suck, and a dedication to do ‘whatever it takes’, you can experience significant change in just a few months.
But you need the right tools. If you go to a counselor and they tell you that you need to begin by changing your lifestyle (like the doctor who tells you to fight depression by going for a long walk every morning) then fire that therapist. Real change begins with changing your mind, not your activities or emotions. A counselor who knows what they are doing will challenge you to deal with your thoughts, show you how to practice taking back control of your impulses, and help you learn to address your dysfunctional coping skills and cognitive distortions.
With depression, for example, if you could go for a long walk every morning you probably wouldn’t be talking to your doctor. A person who is seriously depressed is usually unable to find the energy or motivation to open the curtains, let alone go for long hikes. So once again you are a failure, only further entrenching your despondency. A good counselor will help you find hope, not set you up for more failure.
Depressed people can get better. Every day I teach people the tools they need to find hope. The problem is that not everyone is prepared for the relentless battle that is necessary to drag your emotions and garbage, kicking and screaming, back into your control. You will have to fight your own dysfunctional thinking and learn to get control of your mind, battle your obsessions, say no to your desires, and question your own beliefs. This is a great deal of work and pain but the reward is sanity, hope, and a shot at a happy life.
I love what Tony Campolo once said, “As children we were taught to pray the prayer, ‘If I should die before I wake’. Most of us should be praying, ‘If I should wake before I die’.” Many of us have been walking around most of our lives half asleep, half alive. Isn’t it time we woke up? Anxiety is not a terminal illness. Panic attacks can be beaten. Depressed people find hope.
Don’t give up, you’re worth it.