BY DAVID TORKLNGTON THE DRUG COMPANIES have never had it so good. They are churning out antidepressants at a breathtaking rate.
Almost everyone you meet is either on, just come off or thinking of going on them. The people who are in work are so pressed to work harder and longer, with the threat of the sack hanging over them, that they turn to antidepressants to cope with the tension.
Those who are out of work feel worthless, unwanted, a burden to others, so they turn to antidepressants to help them cope.
Once upon a time people had homes where they would get love, security and the support to soldier on through difficult times, but fewer and fewer have this luxury. More often than not broken marriages and broken homes add to the malaise that is undermining the human spirit in western society. The only people who have secure jobs in this sad new world are counsellors, therapists, doctors and psychiatrists.
The first time depression was recognised in a Christian community was by the monks in the Egyptian desert. They called it Accedia. They became fed up and dissatis fled, not just with life in general, but with religious life in particular which seemed to have lost all meaning. Many coped with it by losing themselves in work, weaving baskets and making pottery for the markets in Alexandria, or working the land to grow food for themselves and their fellow monks.
They avoided the solitude they originally sought for fear of the inner blackness threatening to overwhelm them. Others who did nothing found that things got progressively worse, as the devil found work for idle hands. Monasticism may not have survived had it not been for the wisdom of the great Desert Fathers. They taught the younger monks the discipline needed to live a balanced lifestyle.
They insisted that there had to be a balance of work, prayer, rest and relaxation. The monks were neither expected or even encouraged to pray all the time any more than to work all the time.
Each monk was expected to do seven hours of manual labour, work that would be sanctified by the prayer that would both precede and punctuate it.
Then there would be time for rest and relaxation and perhaps the pursuit of a hobby or passtime that would help balance the day. As each day was balanced with time for rest and relaxation each week would be balanced in the same way, on the day when the Lord's resurrection was celebrated.
Now I'm not trying to offer any simplistic solutions to the contemporary malaise but would suggest that there may be something we can learn from the Desert Fathers. Once depression had set in, the great spiritual fathers would do for the monks what the best counsellors and therapists do today.
They had their primitive forms of medication too, though these were often highly dubious, with no comparison with what is available nowadays.
If we are suffering with depression we need to seek professional help. This is preferably sought through our GP but there's someone else's help we should turn to He saved the monks from disaster.
We need time to turn to God in prayer each day, we need to review our working day to try and make sure it does not envelope the whole of our day or that we have no time left for rest and relaxation with those we love.
Perhaps Lent is a good time to stop and take a long hard look at the lifestyle we live and see if we can improve its quality by introducing the sort of balance that so easily gets distorted by conflicting forces. It may merely need a minor adjustment, or a radical reorganisation of the work we do and where we live, in order to enjoy a life that isn't determined by our salary.
The best way to keep depression at bay is by living a balanced life, nearer to God and to each other. This opens a person to the peace that surpasses all understanding and the joy beyond all telling.
This is the gift that was promised to all who are first prepared to seek God and His kingdom, and continue to seek it above all else. t