Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Reactive Depression versus Biological Depression

Steve Bloem
Copyright, all rights reserved 2011
This is a repost from 2001

The term reactive depression is not used nearly as much as it was twenty – forty years ago.

A person may feel depressed which  often is a grief reaction to a life event or loss or    Reactive  depressions, which often a response   to a life event or a significant loss.  It is unlike endogenous  depression which is not caused by faulty brain chemistry. Endogenous  has unrelenting sorrow, loss of hope, depression, constant sleep disturbance, loss of appetite and often loss of sex drive.

Reactive depressions are very distressing and often occur during holidays and anniversaries.
It involves a person reacting to a life event.Reactive depression is also known as exogenous depression. It comes from outward circumstances, feelings of loss and inadequate coping resources.

Reactive depressions can include a response to particular life pressures and of course a reaction to loss of a cherished object or dream   For example, a person wants Christmas to be the way it used to be before the death of a loved one; when they sit at the holiday table there is an empty chair and it causes deep pain. The missed loved one's absence, in this case, permanent absence engenders a reaction of grief and loss. Reactive depressions may be a result of someone who has been devastated by an unwanted divorce; they begin to think "if only it could be like when it was when we were first married, we were so happy.” The loss of the past and the future haunts them daily. But there is a certain resilience in the depressed person's mood, especially as time goes on.

Sometimes parents torture themselves with thoughts of what it would be like if their children were godly and they cry out like David, over the prodigal, “O Absalom, my son, my son.” Reactive depression should not be suppressed or suffocated. It is something that is very real and it needs to "run its course."

Reactive depression can also be spiritual in nature. Job, who had lost all of his children and everything he possessed, laments saying,   Oh that I were as in months gone by, As in the days when God watched over me; When His lamp shone over my head, And by His light I walked through darkness; As I was in the prime of my days, When the friendship of God was over my tent ; When the Almighty was yet with me, And my children were around me; 6 When my steps were bathed in butter, And the rock poured out for me streams of oil (Job 29:2-6).

Understanding God and His purposes are important in resolving this kind of depression. Job was boxed in by His sorrows and only God Himself could bring him through and out of the deep waters and the sorrowful pit from which he could not climb. A lowering of expectations can be helpful, as is being thankful for whom you are, and what you have in Christ. Recognizing God’s sovereign purposes in trials are an overriding theme in Scripture. Peter, in his first epistle after he spoke to his readers about their eternal inheritance and salvation tells them:
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a “little while,” if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials (1 Peter 1:6).
The “little while” is life between the dash (on a grave stone), in comparison with eternal glory. The distress is only a little while when compared to eternity. God has deemed it something that is needed during our stay on earth.
I will say more about spiritual depression in another blog.

I leave you with a quote from the great poet and song writer William Cowper who suffered from bipolar disorder which demonstrates the unyielding pain of being depressed, biologically.
He was a poet and a writer. When talking about one of his depressive episodes (which lasted about a year); he states It was with such a dejection of spirits, as none but they who have felt the same, can have the least conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror, rising up in despair. I presently lost all relish for those studies, to which before I had been closely attached; the classic had no longer charm for me; I had need of something more salutary than amusement but I had no one to direct me where to use it. Thomas, Gilbert. (1943) William Cowper and the Eighteenth Century. London: George Allen and Unwin LTD, page 75.

His endogenous depression was unrelenting, something he described as torture on the rack. In endogenous depression there is a certain detachment from those who around you. It lacks the elasticity of reactive depressions.
All of us should try to be pastors of the soul and realize that depression has many faces.
If you would like to read about depression please go to this link: