In the year 2009, crowds were enchanted with the scenes of the idyllic world designed by the screenwriter and film director James Cameron, in his film Avatar. What no one could foresee is that many people would end up suffering from “post-Avatar depression.” Websites were created where fans shared their regrets about not living on Pandora, a planet they considered far superior to earth.
Some comments caused great concern, such as one from a young man named Mike: “Ever since I went to see Avatar I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all of the Na’vi made me want to be one of them. I cannot stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all the tears and shivers I got from it. I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it, I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora, and everything is going to be the same as in Avatar.”
This is a vivid example of the influential power of the media. People want to escape reality and flee to dream worlds, regardless of whether they are real or virtual. And it is not just the Avatar fans. There are people who do not go one week (or even one day) without immersing themselves in some film. Others anxiously await the next broadcast of their favourite TV program or soap opera. Some people drop everything so they will not miss the game of their beloved sports team. And what can be said about the hours upon hours spent playing video games or surfing the Internet? They attempt to fill the emptiness of their soul with nourishment that lacks nutrients and has been refined in the studios of those who think only about the money they are going to earn by way of those who are trapped by their addictive productions. This depression, however, is symptomatic. It demonstrates that people are missing something, but they have no idea what it is.
Another behaviour that can lead to depression and even generate suicidal thoughts is casual sex. A study carried out by the University of California with 3,900 students showed that people who are involved in sex outside of marriage were more plagued with problems of depression and anxiety than those who are not. The researchers believe that this stress is the result of regret.
The causes of depression vary a great deal. At times they are difficult to identify. This is not a perfect world, and the further we get from the ideal of the One who created the world, the higher the price people pay for this disparity.
The fact is that only those who have faced or now face a depressive state are able to understand what it means to, for example, sleep more than twelve hours at a time, without any desire to wake up; to cry excessively with no apparent reason; to feel unable to enjoy what they like the most; to feel incapable and inept; to have unpleasant thoughts and lose the will to live; to nurture a sense of guilt concerning unimportant things, as well as the feeling of failure; to live locked inside oneself, in the midst of shadows that insist on hovering above one’s head. In fact, this is not living but only existing, and eventually it reaches the point when the thoughts turn suicidal.
Depression is a great modern disorder in relation to mental health. It is the disease that predominates in consultations in psychiatric and psychology clinics. It is ever increasing: estimates show that depression will occupy second place among the causes of diseases and incapacity in the world in our third decade of the century, only remaining behind cardiovascular diseases.
In its corresponding variations, depression affects everyone: children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, and the elderly; men and women; people from all classes—rich and poor. The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates that more than one hundred million people are depressed in the world.
Suffering a great disappointment, having excessive worry, or feeling stressed does not necessarily mean one has depression. However, these emotional alterations can be the beginning of depression, and it is necessary to be attentive so these feelings do not continue too long.
The symptoms of depression are varied, and a diagnosis is not confirmed until several of them appear in a regular manner during a period of two weeks, and at least one of the symptoms is sadness or the loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities. However, the emergence of only one symptom should serve as a warning to take measures before the solution becomes more difficult.
How to prevent depression
Seek sufficient social support
Depression is not frequent in circles where there are strong relationship ties, whether they are through marriage, family, work, or friendships. Therefore, it is important to be part of a happy family, or be surrounded by good friends, or have a good work environment, or all three, because these relationships are safeguards against depression. However, how can all of this be accomplished? This is what we will see throughout this book.
Keep up an active life
It is surprising how a weakened state of mind can rapidly change when you occupy yourself with some kind of activity. To avoid depression, take action and find something to do. Perhaps it might be difficult to pay a visit to a friend or talk with a neighbour, but this feeling occurs just in the beginning. Once the activity has begun, you will notice that it is easier to continue. Occupy yourself with tasks that bring you satisfaction and that are productive and uplifting: straighten up your house, fix something, or talk with someone special on the phone. If you are physically able to, practice sports or aerobic physical exercise. Fatigue in this case is the source of health and good humour.
As people concentrate on the negative aspect of something or on the positive side of things, they have a greater or lesser tendency toward depression. Positive thinking is a habit and should be cultivated to avoid a negative outlook on life.
Look at the past with caution
The past can be a source of depression or emotional well-being. Instead of thinking of past adversities, cheer yourself up with thoughts of good times and joyful events. If you have some trauma from the past (abuse, upheaval, etc.), seek out a psychologist or psychiatrist who can help you to identify a way to overcome what has happened.
“Ghosts” from the past
Depression can also be considered “excess of the past.” This was the exact problem Carlos was facing. Carlos was considered a strong and energetic man, so much so that his friends called him Big Carlos. But the years of an out-of-control lifestyle filled with partying, drinking, and casual love relationships had taken their toll. At age seventy, Big Carlos was a shadow of the man he had been in the past. He spent the greater part of his time seated in a wheelchair, silent and mulling over thoughts, while time slowly crept by in the nursing home. His large body was arched constantly under an apparent weight—the weight of memories.
Carlos had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. During past years, he had suffered from a profound depression. He was a man of few words, and he never received visits from relatives. It seemed that everyone had abandoned him when the vigour of his life had gone out of him.
The truth is, in the arms of women and in mugs of beer, Carlos had sought to quiet the voice of his conscience. He never wanted to give in and admit that only once in his life had he experienced something that seemed like true happiness. The more he attempted to deny it, the more his thoughts returned to that one woman, his first girlfriend and ex-wife, whom he did not appreciate at the time. Now she was no longer there to hear his complaints and his talk about living life far away from the “burdens” of a family, the worries of children, and the love of just one woman. How wrong he had been! How had he been able to believe such a lie as though it had been truth?
Carlos did not realize that, even if God decided not to heal him, He could forgive him of all his sins and give him eternal salvation. Wasn’t this what Jesus had guaranteed to the thief crucified beside Him? “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” the thief implored. Jesus responded, “You will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42, 43).
Unfortunately, Carlos did not know this. And if he had the strength and the chance, he would take his own life so he could hasten his inevitable end.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide takes more than 800,000 lives per year. Every three seconds, a person attempts to take their own life. This phenomenon ends in the death of one person every forty seconds. In the United States, it is estimated that 121 people take their life every single day. The most common reason for these cases of suicide is untreated depression.
Aiming to clarify this topic in a worldwide awareness campaign, WHO has published a list of myths and facts about suicide.
(Alexandra Fleischmann et al., eds., Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, Geneva: World Health Organization, 2014)
The campaign, for example, refers to the myth that “people who talk about suicide have no intention of committing suicide.” The reality is that people who talk about suicide are likely seeking help, since they frequently suffer from anxiety, depression, and lack of hope.
Another myth is that the majority of suicides take place without any warning. The truth is that the majority of suicidal individuals give warnings or signs. Therefore, it is important to know these symptoms and be able to identify them in the behaviour of those around us.
Another classic mistake regarding suicide is thinking only people with mental problems commit suicide. In reality, many people who have mental problems do not manifest suicidal behaviour. On the other hand, not all people who take their own life have mental disorders.
According to the campaign, talking openly about suicide does not encourage it. On the contrary, talking can help the person with suicidal tendencies to analyse other options and give them time to rethink the decision to end their life. People who consider taking their own life almost always have an altered perception of reality. Therefore, it is very important to treat this distortion of reality in order to prevent suicide.
Two other myths are that people who threaten to kill themselves just want attention, and that when someone demonstrates signs of improvement or survives a suicide attempt, the individual is out of danger. The days following a suicide attempt require careful attention, since the survivor will be especially fragile.
Finally, there are those who think that the media should not deal with the topic of suicide, because they think this will encourage suicides. Actually, according to WHO, the media should deal with this public health matter and approach the topic appropriately. Everyone needs to be informed regarding suicide and should know where to seek help. Additionally, it is essential to critically analyze the content of media. Unfortunately, there are songs, TV programs, movies, and even elec- tronic games that may incite suicide. Preteens and teenagers should receive special attention and education about suicide.
According to WHO, it is possible to prevent suicide in 90 percent of cases. There are organizations prepared to offer 24 hour assistance. In the UK assistance is offered via NHS / Help for Suicidal Thoughts, while in Ireland one should check with the HSE / National Office for Suicide Prevention.
How to overcome depression
Treatment for depression is carried out in two forms—pharmacology and psychotherapy. In the majority of the cases, initial pharmacological treatment is prescribed by a family doctor or psychiatrist. At the same time, a psychological intervention plan is followed, which prepares the individual to get relief from the depression and avoid its return.
In some cases, antidepressants can bring relief from the psychic pain and minimize the tendency toward suicide that frequently accompanies the depressed individual. Antidepressants work on the brain’s chemistry with the objective of balancing the activity of the neurotransmitters in the brain. In many cases, this alleviates the symptoms and can strengthen the effects of psychotherapy. At times, it is necessary to submit the patient to various types of medications until the best one is found. A wait of several weeks is necessary to see the results—which is the reason some patients abandon the medication without medical supervision and therefore worsen the situation. Additionally, the antidepressant medications can produce side effects of varied intensity.
Psychotropic medication is like a regulator on a watch that is running too fast or too slow. The big problem is that it only works at the speed at which the watch functions. For this reason, in spite of bringing some pleasure, antidepressant medication can become inefficient and even dangerous if used in an inappropriate manner.
Planning a programme of activities is one of the most common strategies used by psychologists. It is a schedule that the patient will fulfil over several weeks. The psychologist plans the schedule with the help of the patient’s family. As it is put into practice, the sick individual occupies the necessary time and acquires new behaviour patterns to avoid a relapse. A good schedule of activities should take into consideration the following principles:
– Choose the most pleasant activities and avoid, especially in the beginning, those that are considered excessively difficult.
– Seek activities that have a social component. It is better to have a get-together with friends than to watch a movie alone.
– If possible, do not interrupt normal work, but continue working or studying, although reducing the number of hours and the intensity.
– In the majority of cases, manual work is advised— carpentry, sewing, or gardening.
– Include physical exercise whenever the patient’s health allows. The chemical and hormonal balance produced by pharmaceutical medications can also be obtained or complemented with sports and physical activity.
– The schedule of planned activities should be as detailed as possible (for example: an activity from 8:00 to 8:30 a.m., then another from 8:30 to 9:00 a.m., and so on).
Way of thinking
In the treatment of depression, the individual must intentionally focus on their thought patterns. Those who suffer from depression have the tendency to:
– Have unrealistic objectives and expectations. For example, a man becomes depressed because he thinks that he has not been successful in business, even though his business is going well.
– Point out personal failures and minimize their achievements. A young woman won a literary contest. When her friends congratulated her, she insisted on saying that few people had entered the contest—or that they gave her the award out of pity.
– Compare themselves to others and feel they are inferior. A woman attends a high school reunion and returns home depressed because she considers the achievements of her former classmates’ superior to hers.
In successful treatment, thought restructuring should be included, because depression strengthens the negative thoughts of the individual about their environment and toward the future. The person should avoid all thoughts of inferiority and self-pity. Instead, they should think that a great part of their success depends on what they plan to do, and count their personal qualities and capabilities to be of great value.
In an assessment of the environment, the person should not concentrate on the imperfections or the dangers. Rather, they should focus on the beautiful things in life and the pleasant memories. Certainly, there are many good things to think about. And if there are negative things going on, they should do something to withstand them instead of feeling self-pity.
Professional treatment progresses considerably better if the family offers support to the depressed individual. It is of vital importance, if a spouse, child, or some other family member suffers from depression, that the problem is faced seriously. In addition, follow this guidance:
– Listen with attention and sympathy, because this alone produces a therapeutic effect.
– Never censure the person, but treat them calmly and naturally.
– Help your family member to keep occupied—plan outings, entertainment, small tasks, et cetera.
– Encourage the individual and nurture hope that he or she will come out of the depressed state with dignity.
– Monitor the individual so that he or she eats adequately and does not use alcohol.
– Support their medical treatment by reminding the patient of the importance of taking their medication. Also, avoid transmitting doubts such as, “What are these pills for?” or “Why do you need to go to a psychiatrist? You are not crazy!” If you are in doubt about the treatment, speak with the doctor and not the patient.
– Expect difficulties, especially if the individual’s condition becomes worse and he or she begins to say that life is not worth living and that they wish to die.
Do something for others
Acts of service help the depressed individual to understand that he or she can offer assistance to others. This offers fresh encouragement and is therapeutic. The person may try caring for a friend’s child, go shopping for an elderly individual, visit someone who is hospitalized, or do small volunteer jobs. Acting in this manner, the individual will forget his or her own suffering and notice there are people who have greater necessities than their own. Helping other people is a way to help yourself.
Look to the future with hope
If you are feeling the symptoms of depression, you need to understand that the future is not at the mercy of circumstances and you are an important part of tomorrow. Flee from all feelings of desperation and incapability.
Explain failures with reality
Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Analyse situations in a well-balanced manner. For example, if you were not successful at getting a particular job, do not think of yourself as useless. Instead, consider whether it was a difficult job to obtain or if there were a large number of candidates. The next time, try to better prepare yourself for the position you want.
Assume control of future events
Much of what you experience can be shaped by choices. For example, if the origin of your problems is family related, do not think that there is no longer a solution for the relationships. You can do something to improve your way of communicating. There are real ways to improve your future.
Trusting that God is willing to help, protect, and favour those who seek Him is the first step to benefiting from spirituality. This conviction produces a relationship that inspires inner peace. It is the same feeling as that of a little boy who walks along a rocky path holding his father’s hand; he is not afraid because he feels assurance through a strong hand. In the same way, along the path of life, the individual who trusts in God knows that there are risks of all types, but a faith in the Creator allows the individual to look toward the future with peace of mind because he or she is certain that their heavenly Father will be there for protection.
Specific spiritual help is available through prayer to God, like talking to a friend with whom one shares concerns; and reading the Bible with its stories and messages that bring inner peace. Select several short texts and memorize them so that they can be recalled in times of crisis. Finally, seek to associate with people who share these same ideas. This association can serve as a bridge of support to improve your trust in God.
In a study carried out in the city of San Francisco after the earthquake that struck the city in 1989, it became clear that the people who used a system of social support to fight against the psychological aftereffects of the earthquake demonstrated low levels of depression and anxiety. However, those who had isolated themselves reached high levels of depression. This was verified not only during the days following the earthquake but also seven weeks after the catastrophe.
If you are accustomed to isolating yourself and thinking too much about your anguish, change your attitude and your approach, or you will rapidly enter depression. It is recommended that you have a friend or confidante with whom you can share your anxieties.
Antidepressants: Limitations and problems
Antidepressant medications can bring some temporary relief to the very unpleasant symptoms of depression. However, they do not cure the disease. The elimination of the agents that cause the stress, along with changes of attitude and behaviour through the help of psychotherapy, is what can really contribute to the cure.
The patient who uses antidepressant medication will not feel improvement for at least two or three weeks after beginning the treatment. Additionally, the following side effects are sometimes observed: problems with sexual performance; cardiovascular alterations; sleepiness (or insomnia); blurred vision; nervousness; constipation; weight gain (or loss); and a dry mouth.
Physician Marcia Angell, who was the editorial director for the New England Journal of Medicine, points out that a review of studies on antidepressants reached the conclusion that the major medications prescribed for this purpose have little more than a placebo effect.
“Antidepressivos Trazem Mais Prejuízos do que Benefícios” [“Antidepressants Bring More Harm Than Good”], O Globo, oglobo.globo.com/sociedade/saude/antidepressivos-trazem-mais-prejuizos-do-que -beneficios-2896469, last updated November 3, 2011.
Considering these findings, a change of lifestyle is the best medicine for overcoming depression and the majority of chronic diseases.
Do not blame the past
Past experiences have an important effect on thought patterns, but they do not have to define one’s mental health. It is necessary to accept the past, which cannot be changed, and avoid the passivity of doing nothing to improve the present and the future. Therefore, never let yourself say, “My past has determined who I am,” or “I am like this because I had a complicated childhood,” or “I have this problem because my parents did not know how to bring me up.” This attitude compromises the process of rehabilitation and blocks many sources of assistance and support.
Even though depression usually requires medical and psychological intervention, self-help strategies also provide a significant benefit to treatment and prevention. Here are some tips:
Count on a friend or a confidante
Find someone who appreciates you and understands you, so you can talk naturally. Meditating on your own about problems is the worst activity for the depressed individual.
Keep yourself busy
Go out in the fresh air and practice some type of sport; or, if you prefer, stay home doing some type of manual activity. Activities keep you busy and will not allow your mind to become occupied with thoughts that reinforce depression.
Eliminate alcohol completely
It is a habit of some to try and drown sadness in alcohol. However, do not be deceived. This substance may relieve the symptoms for a few hours, but the destruction it causes to physical and mental health is quite serious. It is important to remember that alcohol unleashes a snowball-type response. Alcohol depresses the activity of the cerebral neurons, those that accompany the circuits responsible for self-control, as well as those that can help an individual to have a positive attitude. The euphoria from alcohol is fleeting, and it is followed by feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and uselessness.
Maintain a healthy diet
Eat vegetables, fresh fruit, cereals, and legumes. If you have not yet developed the habit of eating in this manner, it will be difficult at first. However, after a while, you will grow accustomed to it.
Protect yourself from insomnia
Practice physical exercise, eat a light evening meal, and avoid thoughts that cause worry. If sometimes you have difficulty sleeping, do not become impatient. Make yourself comfortable on a sofa and read a book or listen to the radio until you are able to sleep.
Think about good things
Concentrate on things that bring you satisfaction, and be certain that all periods of adversity will come to an end. Additionally, we have many things to be grateful for. We should often revisit the reasons for our gratitude.
Assume a hopeful attitude
Hope is a human necessity. Without it, doubt and fear and anxiety emerge. People who have hope in the future and a relationship with our loving God are powerfully protected against depression.
Carlos’s problem, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, was that he refused to talk about his fears and feelings, and the certain nearness of death worsened his depressive state. A heavy anchor seemed to be holding him to the past, and there was a dark, unknown road ahead of him, filling him with fear and uncertainty.
Like the fans of Avatar, Carlos sadly discovered that Pandora does not exist. He wasted all of his opportunities to live a happy life. His wife had left many years ago, and his daughter did not want to see him under any circumstances. The approaching end to his existence was certain, and he did not have any comfort through faith to receive divine forgiveness and the hope of eternal life with Christ.
If only Carlos had known what the Bible says about life after death! Then he could rest upon this hope. When the Bible describes the death of the saved, it is always through the lens of hope.
To understand what takes place at death, it is necessary to know how human beings were created. In Genesis 2:7, it is written: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (KJV).
It is important to note that the text states that we are a living soul and not that we have a soul. The word soul in the original Hebrew is nephesh, which means “to be living.” Therefore,
dust of the earth + breath of life = living soul (“to be living”).
Genesis 3:19 states that after death, the human being returns to the dust. The equation looks like this:
dust of the earth – breath of life = the soul no longer exists
(dust returns to dust; breath returns to God).
When a human being dies, the breath (spirit) returns to God, the dust returns to the earth, and the living soul no longer exists; in other words, it dies. The apostle Paul is very clear in affirming that only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15,16).
Many people think it is possible to maintain contact with the dead. However, we learn in the Bible that the dead remain in a state of unconsciousness, incapable of communicating with the living. This is very clear in Bible texts such as Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6 and Psalm 146:4, among others. Therefore, the spirits that appear here and there in the Bible are actually evil angels or demons who pose as people who have died (Revelation 16:14; 2 Corinthians 11:14).
In the story of Lazarus’s death and resurrection (John 11:1–44), Jesus calls death a sleep, reaffirming the concept of unconsciousness. When He calls Lazarus from the grave, in a demonstration that He has the power to resurrect anyone from the dead, Jesus says nothing about His friend Lazarus regarding heaven, hell, or even “tunnels of light.” Lazarus was dead, in an unconscious sleep of rest. Furthermore, it would be a tremendous injustice on the part of Christ to call His friend back to this sad life, subject to disease and death, if he had been enjoying eternal life in Paradise.
To die is to sleep unconsciously, awaiting the resurrection. The Bible says nothing of going to hell immediately, going to heaven immediately, or any cycle of reincarnation. Hebrews 9:27, 28 is a very clear text: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
Where and how did the lie about the immortal soul begin? To obtain this answer, we have to return to the book of origins, to Genesis 2:16,17 and 3:4. It states that the Creator made it very clear to Adam and Eve that the consequence of sin (separating themselves from the Source of life) is death. Satan, the enemy of God, openly contradicted the divine Word and guaranteed Eve that she would not die. Upon listening to the voice of evil, Eve sinned, and then Adam sinned. We all inherited the consequences of this sad choice of our first parents.
Our loving Creator did not abandon us in this world of sin. The Bible is filled with promises related to resurrection and the gift of eternal life to all who accept the salvation offered by the Lord. Texts such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:51 make it very clear that the dead in Christ will be resurrected when Jesus returns. Additionally, another thing that the Bible makes very clear is that no one will be “left behind.” All who accept Jesus’ gift of salvation, even if they die, will be resurrected when Jesus comes a second time, according to His own promise (John 14:1–3). Those who have scorned salvation will remain dead for one thousand years, awaiting the close of God’s judgement, as explained in Revelation 20.
There will be two distinct resurrections (John 5:28, 29), separated by an interval of one thousand years. The determining factor for us to participate in the first resurrection is our relationship with Jesus today. Only through Him is there eternal life (1 John 5:12; John 3:16). And only as we are connected to Him, like the branches on a tree (John 15:1–9), can we also live eternally in a world where peace and love reign (Revelation 21:4).
Be assured that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18). He is willing to forgive our sins and offer us eternal life. Knowing this can help us to face the sadness, hurts, and deceptions in our life with much greater strength and courage.
The content of this post is taken from The Power of Hope — Overcoming depression, anxiety, guilt, and stress, authored by Julián Melgosa and Michelson Borges.
Julián Melgosa holds a doctorate in educational psychology from Andrews University. A member of the British Psychological Society, he was a university professor and is the author of various articles and books in the area of emotional health.
Michelson Borges is a journalist with a master’s in theology from Brazil Adventist University. He is the editor of “Vida e Saúde” (Life and Health magazine), is a seminar presenter and has authored books on media, science and religion.