Shedding Light on the Deep Darkness of Depression

I’m sure we all regularly pray for the Lord’s blessing on medical research in the hope that various cures or comforts can be found for various diseases and disorders. I therefore thought you’d be interested in this interview with Dr Carlos Zarate who is at the forefront of medical research into new anti-depressant medications, especially the use of rapid acting ketamine and other related drugs. Some of the highlights:

  • In 2016, more than one in twenty American adults and one in ten adolescents experienced at least one major depressive episode.
  • For nearly 45,000 of these individuals, their condition was severe enough that it led them to take their own lives.
  • Unfortunately, the medications currently available to treat depression are not always effective and can take up to six weeks to substantially reduce symptoms.
  • Severe, treatment-resistant or chronic depression is not simply the result of disturbances of serotonin and norepinephrine systems but involves alterations in the resiliency and neuroplasticity of synapses and circuits. So future treatments will also need to enhance the plasticity of synapses and circuits.
  • Objective tests for depression are coming closer to public availability, including the identification of biomarkers using blood work and brain imaging.
  • Although up until recently, anti-depressants have largely focused on serotonin, the drugs presently in clinical studies are targeting other neurotransmitter systems which can also be involved in depression and therefore offer hope for depression that has been resistant to current drugs.
  • The ineffectiveness of some anti-depressants could be more to do with patients missing doses and being inconsistent in their administration.
  • The new class of antidepressants being developed are effective in hours rather than weeks.

Let’s keep praying for Dr. Zarate and all medical researchers as they labor daily for breakthroughs in providing relief for suffering people.

Three Films about Porn

Fight the New Drug have recently released three 30-minute films, Brain Heart World, about the impact of pornography on the brain, relationships, and society. The films are extremely well produced with first class graphics, expert interviews, and personal stories. They are free for private viewing, but only until the end of November, if you sign up online here. You can also buy the right to public viewings at $50. This would be a great option for youth groups or other small groups.

If you are addicted to porn you may want to have a look at Fortify (one of the film sponsors) a science-based online recovery tool to help individuals quit pornography.

None of these organizations have any Christian basis as far as I can see, but represent the growing social unease with porn even if only for health and relationship reasons. If used together with Christian counseling, pastoring, and support, the films and other resources could be useful both to prevent and deliver from porn. Just make sure to view the films in their entirety before a public showing to ensure that you can mute or edit any content that might offend your community. The content is quite raw and hard-hitting in places.

Accountability Reinvented

I’ve always been a strong supporter of Covenant Eyes. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best digital accountability service I’ve found. I was therefore delighted to read about how they are planning to launch the the next generation of their software that will address some of the obvious weaknesses. For a long time, I’ve believed that the way forward was more along the lines of screen-shotting and therefore I’m delighted to see how they are planning to center their new service around this with a number of safeguards in place. You can watch Covenant Eyes President Ron DeHaas speak about it here and then scroll down to read more of the details. You can also sign up to trial the service.

How Overparenting Backfired on Americans

Pre-1995 the average age kids were allowed outside to play independently (without adults present) was 8-years-old. Post-1995 the average age was 12+. Historically, ages 8-12 was the period kids learned to practice independence. Now it’s much later and kids are not being readied for the outside world, hence the proliferation of “tigger warnings” and the insistence on protection from “hate” speech in college, etc.

See Haidt’s excellent book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.

The website he references is

Expedition 36: Foolish Sheep and a Good Shepherd

Here’s the video for Expedition 36 in Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos are posted, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Is an Elephant Running Your Life?

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.

Yesterday we looked at the first Great Untruth that our culture has embraced in recent years:

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

Today, we will look at what the book teaches about the second Great Untruth:

  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

This chapter sets out to dismantle this Great Untruth by insisting that while feelings are always compelling, they are not always reliable. “Often they distort reality, deprive us of insight, and needlessly damage our relationships. Happiness, maturity, and even enlightenment require rejecting the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning and learning instead to question our feelings.”

The authors illustrate the struggle between reason and emotion by the image of a small rider on an elephant.

“The rider represents conscious or “controlled” processes—the language-based thinking that fills our conscious minds and that we can control to some degree. The elephant represents everything else that goes on in our minds, the vast majority of which is outside of our conscious awareness. These processes can be called intuitive, unconscious, or “automatic,” referring to the fact that nearly all of what goes on in our minds is outside of our direct control, although the results of automatic processes sometimes make their way into consciousness.

The rider-and-elephant metaphor captures the fact that the rider often believes he is in control, yet the elephant is vastly stronger, and tends to win any conflict that arises between the two…The rider generally functions more like the elephant’s servant than its master, in that the rider is extremely skilled at producing post-hoc justifications for whatever the elephant does or believes.

Emotional reasoning is the cognitive distortion that occurs whenever the rider interprets what is happening in ways that are consistent with the elephant’s reactive emotional state, without investigating what is true. The rider then acts like a lawyer or press secretary whose job is to rationalize and justify the elephant’s pre-ordained conclusions, rather than to inquire into—or even be curious about—what is really true.:

What’s the answer to this? The authors propose CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

CBT was developed in the 1960s by Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. Beck saw a close connection between the thoughts a person had and the feelings that came with them. He noticed that his patients tended to get themselves caught in a feedback loop in which irrational negative beliefs caused powerful negative feelings, which in turn seemed to drive patients’ reasoning, motivating them to find evidence to support their negative beliefs. Beck noticed a common pattern of beliefs, which he called the “cognitive triad” of depression: “I’m no good,” “My world is bleak,” and “My future is hopeless.”

Beck’s great discovery was that it is possible to break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions. If you can get people to examine these beliefs and consider counter-evidence, it gives them at least some moments of relief from negative emotions, and if you release them from negative emotions, they become more open to questioning their negative beliefs. It takes some skill to do this—depressed people are very good at finding evidence for the beliefs in the triad. And it takes time—a disempowering schema can’t be disassembled in a single moment of great insight

The book does not suggest that everyone needs to get a therapist and start CBT. Just learning how to recognize cognitive distortions and challenging them is a good intellectual habit for all of us to cultivate. With a little training, people can be trained to question their automatic thoughts on their own, every day. With repetition, over a period of weeks or months, people can change their schemas and create different, more helpful habitual beliefs.

The authors summarize this chapter as follows:

  • CBT is a method anyone can learn for identifying common cognitive distortions and then changing their habitual patterns of thinking. CBT helps the rider (controlled processing) to train the elephant (automatic processing), resulting in better critical thinking and mental health.
  • Emotional reasoning is among the most common of all cognitive distortions; most people would be happier and more effective if they did less of it.
  • By encouraging students to interpret the actions of others in the least generous way possible, schools that teach students about microaggressions may be encouraging students to engage in emotional reasoning and other distortions while setting themselves up for higher levels of distrust and conflict.
  • Students, professors, and administrators should keep in mind Hanna Holborn Gray’s principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.