Friday, July 3, 2015

Depression and Culture

In his book Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, Ed Welch offers a list of cultural elements that may contribute to the increases in depression in recent generations. While these features may not themselves be a direct cause of a specific depression diagnosis, they are certainly linked. As I read this particular chapter of Welch’s book, I grew convicted by how easily I am influenced by our culture that fuels self-pity and a sense of futility.

Please note that Welch clearly acknowledges throughout the book that depression is a complicated phenomenon, often without a clear cause and effect. He reiterates the fact that depression may be physical or spiritual or emotional or all three but regardless of its root cause it always has a spiritual element and it is that element that must be addressed by the hope of the gospel.

Here are some features of our culture that have links with depression:

1. A Culture of Decisions. With so many options and a wealth of information at our fingertips, the pressure in making decisions has become enormous, as has the sheer number of decisions we must make. What if we make the wrong decision? Sometimes it’s just easier to withdraw out of fear and paralysis, thus paving the way for depression.

2. A Culture of the Individual. Me, me, me, and what makes me happy, this is the mantra of our culture and it has reaped the consequences of isolation and loneliness leading to depression.

3. A Culture of Self-Indulgence. When we are consumed by the culture of the individual—me!—and our only concern is what makes me happy, then the culture of self-indulgence is born as we constantly crave more and more in our endless search for satisfaction, be it shoes or food or youth or beauty or affirmation or approval. These never satisfy and the endless search without satisfaction often leaves depression in its wake.

4. A Culture Where Happiness is the Greatest Good. We just want to be happy but the problem is that life is hard. If happiness is our greatest goal, what do we do when hardship comes, as it will? We get depressed.

5. A Culture of Entertainment and Boredom. We want to be entertained and amused. We want excitement and diversion. We do not know how to function without stimulation and our attention spans have grown short. When the excitement inevitably runs out, we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves and we become prone to depression.

Again while the depression itself will probably have causes well beyond these factors or may require professional help, the answer to each of these contributing factors is a broader view of God and the pursuit of joy in Him through His Son Jesus. Yes, we live in a culture of decisions and the weight of so many decisions may seem to paralyze us, yet we can trust the care and provision of a wise and sovereign God. In contrast to the culture of the self-indulgent individual, the Bible teaches us we are saved not merely for our own sake but for the church. Engaging in true community and in selfless service will combat the self-preoccupation of our individualistic culture. As believers we also know that happiness is not our greatest good but the Lord Jesus Himself and sometimes He is glorified not in our happiness but in our suffering and we can trust Him even then. And when we are tempted to boredom we can pursue joy, joy fixed on the eternal goodness of our great God.

Happiness, joy, cheerfulness, these are not my default emotions. I am more melancholy then merry and sometimes I have used my gloomy nature as an excuse to allow some of these cultural tendencies to give way in my life and heart. Maybe you are like me or maybe you struggle with a deeper, more pervasive depression and maybe any mention of joy serves as a discouragement. To us all I say: let us choose it whether we feel it or not. Joy is our inheritance, a fruit of the Spirit within us if we belong to Christ. Let us repent of the ways we have given in to the world and its cultural influence and let us humbly choose joy. In Jesus’ name. Yes and amen.

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