According to Dr. Charles Hodges, a physician and biblical counselor, “depression and bipolar disorder are two of the most common diagnoses made in medicine today.” How did it come to be so common?
In his book Good Mood, Bad Mood, Dr. Hodges explains how he began a journey to discover more about the label “bipolar” and arrived at some surprising conclusions. Along the way, he weaves in some cases he has had which illustrate how modern beliefs about depression and medications affect people and how the Bible changes lives in ways that modern beliefs about depression do not predict.
As a result of his examination of research, Dr. Hodges seeks to “make a good case for the idea that today, people in medicine, psychology, and society in general mistake sadness for depression” (152). This relabeling has undermined right responses to normal sadness. We used to be a society that directed the emotion of sadness into productivity for change. Now, we tend to consider ourselves victims of a “disease” requiring medication.
Furthermore, instead of curing depression, we are diagnosing more and more people with it. Dr. Hodges asks, with assessments of depression so subjective, how does one distinguish between depression and grief?
What about chemical imbalance? “There has never been a peer-reviewed, published journal article that proves that a serotonin deficiency is the cause of any mental disorder” (45). When it comes to levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, we don’t even know what “normal” is, so it is impossible to determine whether there is an imbalance. Why do some people on antidepressants feel better? Hodges talks about that.
Meanwhile, he points out a solution to our mood problems far superior to medications. The Great Physician already told us what to do with the sadness, worries, fears, and anger moods that we experience. Christ offers true rest for the weary soul.
Hodges proposes that sadness is normal and that when sad people are routinely diagnosed as depressed, we end up with an epidemic of a “disease” that is nothing more than a sadness that, given the person’s circumstances and responses, ought to be expected. Hodges examines what causes sadness and the several benefits of it. God uses sadness and sorrow for good. For example, when we view sadness God’s way, then sadness becomes a signal that changes need to be made, that we need to deal with our problems God’s way. God gives grace to enable us to do so. The end result is joy in the midst of circumstances.
Are people responsible for sins they commit during an episode of mania? Dr. Hodges answers this question in chapter 14, “The Link Between Depression and Bipolar Disorder.” He also explains how bipolar came to be a diagnosis different from depression, and how the categories of bipolar then were made. His use of case studies helps clarify the difference between bipolar disorder I and bipolar disorder II. One usually needs medication, but the other usually does not.
Appendix B provides a limited summary of some medically diagnosable diseases which produce depression as a symptom. These diseases need medical treatment.
Trials, loss, and sadness are normal parts of the human experience. Having a medical checkup is a good idea. Otherwise, for normal sadness, rather than dash to the doctor for relief, we need to consider the solutions our Creator has already compassionately provided in His all-sufficient Word. In the end, there is complete peace only in a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dr. Hodges has written in a way that is easy for the layman to understand. He separates the medical issues from the spiritual and gently injects answers from the Word of God. His compassion is evident. This book is an excellent resource on depression and bipolar disorder.
Good Mood, Bad Mood: Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar, Charles D. Hodges, M.D., Shepherd Press, 2012.