Talk About Depression

Depression is the world’s leading cause of disability and is felt in all countries, both poor and rich. In many ways, this indiscriminate impact makes it unique, however many continue to conceal it from those around them for fear of the stigma that often follows the condition. On this year’s occasion of World Health Day, we are called to embrace and empower those suffering around us to find the aid they need to overcome it.

The theme for this year’s campaign is “Depression: Let’s Talk.”[1] Depression affects people in all walks of life and in all countries. Despite this ubiquity, acknowledgement of the disease, along with access to treatment remains elusive for many. Many believe depression is just a form fleeting sadness, effectively dismissing the severity of the condition and harmfulness that derives from it.

Depression is mentioned throughout the Bible and was discussed amongst the Church Fathers who were cognizant of its harmful propensities. We see in the Old Testament: “My eye has grown dim from grief, it grows weak because of all my foes.” (Job 17:7). St. Paul similarly references depression and its impact, articulating: “...worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor. 7:10). Here, the death he speaks of concerns personal, family, and social death, along with spiritual death of the soul, which prevents God’s love from entering the heart.[2]

In ‘On the Eight Vices,’ St. John Cassian describes dejection, a concept similar to depression, as: obscuring the soul, keeping it from performing good works, preventing us from praying gladly and being gentle and compassionate towards our brethren. Additionally, it instills hatred in our hearts, leaving our soul senseless and paralyzed.[3] Likewise, the American Psychiatric Association defines depression as a condition which “negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act, ” including things such as feeling sad, lacking energy to complete daily tasks, feeling worthless, diminished interest in pleasure and increased proneness to agitation, and general difficulty in thinking or concentrating.[4] These characterizations demonstrate the existing mutuality between our present day medical understanding and the spiritual appreciation of the disease.

According to the World Health Organization (“WHO”), there are approximately 322 million people suffering from depression around the world, equivalent to about 5% of the total population and an increase of 18.4% over the past decade.[5]  It is the most common disability on the planet, with significant implications for both the individual suffering, as well as the loved ones around them.

Depression is most prevalent among elderly and adolescent populations, and its effects vary from decreased inability to complete daily tasks to suicide, all of which demonstrate the need for increased attention. The WHO has articulated that these conditions are mutually reinforcing. There are strong links between depression and other mental disorders/diseases, substance abuse, and physical diseases like heart disease.[6] The opposite is true as well, that most people suffering from aforementioned ailments are at a higher risk to become depressed.

Despite these known features, the problem persists. According to the WHO, the first step in tackling depression is acknowledging its existence. While at first glance this may seem simple, the truth is that many feel shameful or afraid to do so. The Church suggests a similar remedy. St. John Cassian argues: “Thus it is clear that our whole fight is against the passions within. Once these have been [eliminated] from our heart by the grace and help of God, we will readily be able to live...”[7]

The Church represents the healing Body of Christ, and through that we can fight this condition. Similarly, because we are made in the image and likeness of God, we can use our worldly intelligence and knowledge to better understand and treat the condition.[8]

For example, the Cognitive-Behavioral Model of Emotional Dysfunction describes how people’s perceptions of events affect their emotion.[9] According to this model, depression and depressive thoughts can be produced through irrational beliefs, attitudes, or thoughts based on the perception of or reaction to an event. Therefore, we become upset at the interpretation of events around us, rather than the situation itself.[10] Based on this model, we are able to adequately pinpoint the cause of concern, and treat it both pastorally and clinically, because how we react to events is easier to treat and control than the events themselves.

This is one of many studies conducted which studies the effects and causes of depression, as well as how to treat it. While not meant to be an exhaustive list, I hope to convey a sense of awareness that there is help out there for those who need it, both in the clinical world as well as in the Church. The two are not mutually exclusive, but as we have seen, they both acknowledge the problem, and aim to help those suffering. 

 

For more information on World Health Day and their yearlong campaign against depression, visit http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2017/en/

 

 

Anthony Balouris is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org)

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ESOSCO). It has been actively working at the UN for 30 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]http://www2.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=12933%3Aworld-health-day-2017-depression&catid=8190%3Ageneral&Itemid=42252&lang=en

[2] http://www.antiochian.org/1141449331

[3] http://dormitionpgh.org/tidbits/eight_Vices_dejection.asp

[4] https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

[5] http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/prevalence_global_health_estimates/en/

[6] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/world-health-day/en/

[7] http://dormitionpgh.org/tidbits/eight_Vices_dejection.asp

[8] http://www.antiochian.org/1141449331

[9] https://www.beckinstitute.org/cognitive-model/

[10] http://www.antiochian.org/1141449331

The Problem with Guilt and Shame

The Lenten period is one of self-reflection and of striving to grow closer to Christ. But the more we look closely at ourselves in the mirror, so to speak, the easier it is to not like what we see. Next thing we know, we’re filled with guilt and shame for our past actions and even our present circumstances. And guilt and shame only leads to more guilt and shame. Before we know it, we’re immobilized with fear and despair, and we’ve forgotten the whole point of our self-reflection.

 

When we start to feel this way, we need to remember that the Christian life is not about sitting in despair over our own brokenness. Christ gives us joy because in Him we no longer have to bear our sin. We see the distance we have yet to walk in our journey towards the Kingdom, but we rejoice knowing that we do not walk of our own strength.

 

How can we develop this healthy vision of self-reflection and repentance and not get trapped in the cycle of shame and guilt? Here are three things that can help.

 

1. Run to Jesus

 

When we feel guilt and shame, it may be hard to feel and accept God’s presence with us. We compare the sense of our own unworthiness with the greatness of God’s holiness and we want to get even further away from Him. We want to isolate instead of running towards the only One we most need.

 

I still remember my first liturgy after I had been chrismated in 2005. I had spent months attending liturgy, not yet able to receive Communion, but so looking forward to this moment. It was the Pascha liturgy and the sanctuary filled with lit candles as we were celebrating the Resurrection. Yet my mind kept worrying about my candle which, unlike everyone else’s, was billowing black smoke. Was this a sign of my unworthiness? I had to let this go so that I could focus on Christ.

 

When we are holding on to a feeling of guilt, when we’re in a rut, we’re frozen in place. We’re stuck because we’re burdened by more than we can handle on our own. So before we can run to Jesus, we have to first listen to St. Peter who writes, “cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). St. Peter knew, from his own experience, what life was like when he tried to hold on to fears and guilt.  When he ran to Jesus, he did the impossible – St. Peter walked on water. And later, St. Peter also had to navigate his own guilt and despair after he denied Christ (Matthew 26:75). So we need to keep our focus on Christ, run to Him, and let Him bear the weight of our sin.

 

We can’t afford to hold on to our guilt and shame, we need to run to Jesus. But once we get to Him, what do we say?

 

2. It's more than saying “sorry”

 

Prayer is our opportunity to let go of what we’re feeling, to share our hearts with Christ. But the natural response for many of us is to start with saying, “sorry.” Next thing we know, we’re swearing off sin and making promises we’re not sure we can keep.

 

But repentance – mending our relationship with God or with others – is more than saying, “sorry.” I’ve learned I need to be specific: “forgive me for ____.” Right then though, shame kicks back in, and we’re stuck begging forgiveness from God as if He were a merciless king. This isn’t repentance, it’s fear. Once we’ve asked forgiveness, we need to move on to praise and gratitude for all that He has done for us. This keeps us focused on Christ instead of focused on ourselves.

 

Our personal repentance is lived out as we commit to specific action for today. God knows our hearts, He sees our failings, but He also desires the best for us. Once we have asked forgiveness, we need to trust that God has forgiven us. Emboldened by this trust in Jesus Christ, we will be able to see our past sins as opportunities for growth.

 

3. No condemnation in Christ

Too often, our world is focused on blame and punishment. And living in the world, we in the Church have the habit of applying the world’s way of thinking to our relationship with Christ. We approach our own repentance either as an escape from punishment on the one hand or an admission of our own unworthiness such that we’re beyond hope. We forget that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

 

When a sick person comes into a hospital, the doctor isn’t there to be the judge and prosecutor – he is there to heal. Similarly, when we approach Christ with an attitude of humility (acknowledging our need for healing), He is there to heal us. More often than not, we are our own worst judge. We somehow think that our sins are the worst and therefore unforgivable. Or, we see ourselves as lost causes, irredeemable because thus far the healing hasn’t quite stuck.

 

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ because they recognize that in Christ, they have everything they need. For those of us who have chosen Christ, who have put on Christ in baptism, and who choose Him each day, we know that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). It is no longer our strength that holds us up, but the strength of Jesus Christ that bears our sins and takes them away.

 

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave” (St John Chrysostom's Paschal Sermon).

 

Shame and guilt keeps us looking at ourselves, condemning ourselves, instead letting Christ pick us back up in repentance.

 

*****

 

The hymns and teachings of the Orthodox Church work to instill in us humility in the place of pride. We read that we’re the “worst of sinners” and we pray that God have “mercy on me a sinner.” But living in a world focused on “who’s to blame” and “what’s their punishment,” we can start to think that we’re irredeemable, falling into the grip of guilt, shame, and ultimately despair.

 

Instead, the Church calls us to humility so that we will focus on being honest with ourselves and not looking at others’ faults. Guilt and shame are not the answer – in fact they keep us further from Christ. “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

 

Self-reflection, especially the kind the Church calls us to have during Great Lent, should lead us to run to Christ, ask for forgiveness, and then take the actions necessary to live differently today. And finally, we ought to remember that in Christ, we are not condemned.

 

How has shame and guilt kept you from growing closer to Christ? How could gratitude help you to see God’s presence in your life?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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The Beauty of Taking the Blame

One of my favorite home videos is of my little sister, Alexa, when she was about three years old. She is standing in front of a white wall with a red marker masterpiece on it that she has obviously drawn herself. From behind the camera, my mom is asking her who is responsible.

 

Well, my sister has every answer in the book, starting with the usuals: mom and dad, followed by yiayia and pappou. Then come the out-of-left-field answers: our great-aunt, our cousin’s wife, and even our other little sister (who was a newborn at the time).

 

It has to be one of my favorite home videos of all time. It’s so comical.

 

You know what’s not as comical? When you’re 23 and you find yourself doing the same thing.

 

For example, this week I’ve just been in a horrible mood, and I’ve found so many people to blame.

 

A friend.

 

A family member.

 

A co-worker.

 

A guy at the gym.

 

Someone I passed in the street.

 

(Seriously, these are all people that I’ve blamed).

 

It gets just as ridiculous as Alexa blaming her artwork on a newborn child.

 

It’s all too easy to fall into a pattern where I blame everyone else for the way that I am feeling, for my actions, and for my behaviors.

 

What I often forget when I find myself in a place like this is that, no matter the situation, I am in charge. And if I’m going to take charge of my reactions, then I have to live with the blame also.

 

Of course, there are circumstances around us that are beyond our control, but what is within our control is how we respond to them. So sometimes when something that someone says bothers me, I have to be aware that what they are saying is bothering me because of something inside me. What makes me react negatively is not exactly what has happened, but things that have happened to me that make me upset.

 

So, no, I wasn’t actually mad at any of these people. No one did anything specifically to hurt me or to anger me, but because of the mood that I was in, everything bothered me. As much as I’d like to place the blame on anyone else, I know that the blame is my own.

 

Where does this leave me? Well, it leaves me more dependent on Christ for one. Dependent on the fact that He will take care of me and lead me out of the depths of whatever sadness I find myself in. Dependent on the fact that He is constantly at work in my life, working on making me a more well-rounded person, someone who is more like Him.

 

I mean, the video would have been much less funny had my sister taken credit for her artwork. But at the expense of humor, taking the blame is something that we all need to work on.

 

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Want more from Y2AM?  Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday!  And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter.  As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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The Things That I Don't Know

In my undergraduate classes, it was so rare to hear an “I don’t know” from a professor. These brilliant men and women, who had devoting themselves studying, researching, and writing in their fields for years, could seemingly grapple with any question thrown at them. When people know that much, it almost becomes a game to try and stump them.

 

Well, we find ourselves in Great Lent, and I am admitting defeat. I am stumped by Orthodoxy. There is so much that I simply don’t know.

 

It’s hard to admit this because I want to know everything. Yet the more I pray, the more I read books and articles and listen to podcasts about Orthodoxy, and the more church services that I attend during Lent, I am still not prepared to answer questions definitively, to say that I know, well, anything. On the contrary, these experiences have me thinking: wow, I’m confused; I don’t know much at all.

 

These past few weeks, I’ve been admitting to not knowing so often. In fact, I’ve made it a point to live in the “I don’t know.” To lean into, to become acquainted with, and even to embrace the things that I don’t know.

 

Because in life, there’s a lot that I don’t know, and there’s a lot that I will never know (it’s a little scary, but a lot of truth lies in that statement).

 

I’ll never know why certain friendships have faded, why certain relationships haven’t worked out, or

why bad things happen to good people. I’ll never know why there is sickness and suffering in this world of unfathomable amounts.

 

So...where’s the solace in all of this?

 

Well, it lies in what I know.

 

As a wise priest once told me at summer camp, when you read the Bible, you should focus on what you know. So I’ve been trying really hard to do this in all aspects of my life: to focus on what I’ve already known, and to learn what I can from everything I read, listen to, and every person I talk to.

 

Unlike most professors, I’m quite happy to admit that I don’t know. The process of coming to understanding that there is a lot which I don’t know about my faith is what has led me to want to learn all that I can.

 

What I do know is so important: that Christ died for me and that He loves me. That I have put my faith and trust in Him.

 

And that’s spectacular enough to get me through all of the things that I don’t know.

 

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Want more from Y2AM?  Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday!  And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter.  As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

______________

Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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Two Reminders about Youth Safety Training

If you’ve ever been a camp counselor, you know the pains of some of the youth ministry training process. Of course, I don’t mean the time you took classes on learning icebreakers or how to be a good listener or how to best speak about our faith. I mean the online training, learning all of the things you shouldn’t do and having to learn the ins and outs of the Youth Protection Manual.

 

(By the way, the Archdiocese is preparing new Policies for the Safety of Youth and Children.  So these basic youth safety principles will soon apply to all youth work.  Stay tuned!)

 

Now, I’m sure you know that all of this is important. But when you’re an experienced counselor, it’s easy for this to feel like just another task you have to check off your to-do list. It’s easy to lose sight of what it’s all really about.

 

Those in youth ministry have an incredibly important role in the spiritual lives of the youth with whom they work. Though you may only be with these young people for a retreat or for a week-long camp session, your impression matters, and the parents trust that their children are in safe hands with you.

 

So what are two things that everyone can keep in mind, as a background for all of the rules and regulations? What I’ve found helpful is to remember that boundaries matter, and that we as leaders in the Church serve as icons of God.

 

1. Boundaries matter

 

Boundaries are at the core of many youth safety regulations. We talk so much about how far apart to be from the youth, about how much physical contact is culturally appropriate, about contact online and on the phone. But common to all of these rules is the concept that our boundaries and the boundaries of our youth truly matter.

 

One common mistake that youth workers can make is to not properly set up boundaries for themselves. They want to be open and helpful, they want to be always available to lend a helpful hand or a listening ear. Youth workers want to be there for their youth, but sometimes that Johnny-on-the-spot availability can be at the detriment of their own physical and spiritual health. We can’t give what we don’t have.

 

While our boundaries matter, so too do the boundaries of our youth. There is the obvious need for physical boundaries to be respected. But there’s also the need to have clear emotional boundaries with those we serve. I remember early on in my youth work a time when I found myself getting too emotionally worked up about a young person’s struggles. I wanted to be able to help him, to make sure he was alright. But I had to see that I was trying to fix him instead of letting God do the work. I had to stop seeing him as a problem to be solved, and instead as a person to be loved and prayed for. I needed to commit him to God, and to trust that Christ could work in his life.

 

2. Religious leaders are icons of God

 

Whether we like it or not, we who work in ministry are – in a very real and particular way – icons of God for those we serve. How we act and live our lives reflects Christ whose ministry we share. How we speak to young people guides and molds how they perceive and understand God.

 

This may be a rather heavy realization to have, but it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Though we know that we are imperfect people ourselves – and perhaps because of an awareness of our imperfections we are personally aware of the power and grace of God – we must remember that our youth do not expect us to be quite so imperfect. How we show love, how we demonstrate the grace of God by how we show grace to young people we serve, all impacts how they are able to relate to and encounter the Holy Trinity.

 

Another temptation, intertwined with the importance of boundaries, is sharing too much of our own story too soon and in the wrong context. We may want to show that we can truly empathize with the challenges our youth face – because, let’s be honest, we have oftentimes been in the same boat they’re in now. But we have to remember that we represent the straight and narrow path; we represent Christ. When we share with teens, for example, that we faced a challenge they are now facing, we need to favor being vague over specific. Because not only could a discussion of specifics end up crossing a boundary, it can also send the wrong message and lead to temptation rather than a helpful lesson. How specific we become, and the examples we share, can only be properly discerned over a period of time as we build as relationship with the person before us. And when it comes to youth, we need to be extra careful in what we say.

 

We don’t have to be perfect, but we do have to work not to scandalize those in our care (1 Corinthians 8:13).

 

Icons made of wood or plaster bring us to an encounter with the one depicted. Through created matter, we come to know Jesus Christ, His mother, and the other saints. And in us – those who work with youth – others come to see living icons of our Lord. Imperfect though we may be, young people encounter Jesus Christ in and through us.

 

*****

 

When Youth Safety is seen as a task to accomplish, or as a set of rules to follow, we forget that we are preparing to serve the Body of Christ. Youth ministry is Christ’s ministry and we are His hands and His feet serving His people. But we need to rediscover the importance of keeping proper boundaries, both for our sake and for the sake of the youth. And we should keep in mind that ultimately we represent our Lord to those we serve.

 

How have you struggled with boundaries in youth ministry? Have you ever encountered a time when you felt a young person placed you on too high of a pedestal?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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