Is There Hidden Gold in the Epidemic of Depression?
Around 2001 I discovered from the World Health Organisation that depression was set to become the leading cause of death and disability by 2020. Now we’re not that far away and the prediction is becoming true.
Major depression (or clinical depression) is already the biggest cause of disability for 15 to 44 years in USA.
9.6% of the population in USA experience bipolar disorder, major depression or minor chronic depression in one year.
30m Europeans suffer from depression, costing workplaces US$131.5bn per year
One in every 10 people in USA is on some form of antidepressant (depressant drugs are prescribed to middle aged Americans more than any other drug)
From 1995 to 2009 European use of antidepressants rose by 20% on average every year.
Why is this happening?
Are we suffering more mental illness because we are using our brains more than we ever have before? When our work was predominantly physical, our diseases were also more physical. There is no doubt that depression seems to grow as we become more developed.
But depression is a world-wide epidemic – with 5% of the whole world’s population suffering from it. This is not just a western phenomenon.
I am coming to believe there is something much deeper going on, connected with our evolution as human beings.
My work over the last few years has led me to delve deeply into the psychological and spiritual essence of many clients who were experiencing depression, along with many other physical and emotional conditions.
Over and over again I have found, deep at the core of human life, a terrible fear. It’s a fear that causes us, deep inside, to feel hopelessness and despair. It gives us the feeling that whatever we do, we will never be good enough. We will never deserve the best in life. We will never be worthy enough – even if we already have significant material success – and so are experiencing some of the best in life.
This is not the usual fear of dying or fear of abandonment or the other regular fears that surface in psychotherapy. It is also not the usual feeling of unworthiness and undeserving that most of us experience and may have been caused by the way we were brought up or treated when we were younger
This is a fear that has been rooted in human experience throughout our history, so deep that we rarely if ever touched it. But now we are beginning to touch it and bring it out. It is coming to the surface, with the potential to be set free. Releasing this fear will change the course of human life for ever.
It is fundamentally the fear that whatever we do we will never be good enough for God. It is based in a misunderstanding about life that has been promoted for generations, through religion first and foremost, and it is causing havoc in the deep interior of human life.
When I grew up I learned that God’s love is unconditional. It was taught in church and it was written in the Bible. I was not a particularly ardent Christian but my boarding school was Christian and for many years I attended chapel twice a day and listened to stories about Christ and morality and other uplifting themes.
The problem is that somehow along the way I picked up the notion that I somehow needed to deserve God’s love. That God favours those who love Him, or bestows blessings on some more than others.
Later in life I was taught the God wants us to be happy. It seems so logical that God would want us to be happy, so I never questioned it, I just tried to be happy. But I observed that although I and my friends tried to be happy, because God (or any other higher being) wanted it, we didn’t seem to get the rewards we deserved.
Many people end up being angry with God because of this. It’s a subtle anger, often not even admitted, but it’s powerful. You have done a lot of personal and spiritual development. You have done the things that you were exhorted to do to make you into a good person (whether that was spiritual or moral). You’ve read all the stories about miracles, and seen the testimonials of people who did the right thing and were rewarded with astonishing results. If you’re a teacher or healer like me, you have also told many of those stories to you clients and students.
And yet, there is a depression, or hopelessness that surfaces again and again in all these people. Some of them have long recovered from the clinical depression that caused them to get help in the first place. They are living lives of contribution and have a level of inner peace that they could not have dreamed of some years ago.
But I looked at myself, and I looked at them, and I saw there was something missing. There was still an inner sense of unfairness and disappointment. I knew I wasn’t happy enough or good enough to deserve all the spiritual and material blessings I was wanting to experience, but I was stuck in a catch 22 situation. I had also been taught that God is perfect. Deep inside me it dawned on me that if God is perfect I would never be good enough for him. Because however good I could be, I could never be as good as God. And I discovered in myself the cause of the deep helplessness and hopelessness I experienced from time to time and I saw in so many other people.
We were all striving to be good enough, busy doing the right things, when the bar was set so high that we could never be good enough – by definition. This wasn’t a challenge or an inspiration to raise our level and keep developing. This was an inbuilt contradiction that made our task impossible – and therefore ultimately pointless.
Mostly it was hidden and I have seen that very few people are aware of this at all. And yet I observe it again and again and again. The power of the desire to be good enough – destroyed by a subtle sense that nothing I do ever could be enough.
And so I started to ask questions and explore some more. I realised there was something wrong with my understanding. I had to pluck up the courage to question things I had been taught by great teachers, because I saw they weren’t working the way they should.
I went back to the early messages about God – that God is unconditional love. And I wondered how a God who is love could want something of us. If God wants us to be happy, what happens if we aren’t happy? Is God less happy as a result? And does that go with unconditional love.
It gradually dawned on me that God’s love is either unconditional – in which case that goes for all of us – or it’s not (which simply doesn’t make any sense). If it is unconditional, then it can’t be affected by our happiness or otherwise. In that case we cannot have to do anything to deserve it. And in that case, we are loved anyway, whatever we do and whoever we are.
This sounds pretty obvious, but I have found that we do not live that belief. In fact it is challenging to live that belief – most of us can’t even imagine it. We are so deeply conditioned to believe that we need to achieve something to be good/spiritual/moral people (and therefore deserving of God’s love) that we can’t even relate to the possibility that none of that is true.
It’s not fair. If God loves me, you, Hitler and Mother Theresa all the same, what’s the point of anything? What’s the point of striving or developing ourselves or learning or anything else, for that matter? Why don’t we just go around killing people or doing whatever we feel like?
But that kind of thinking comes from our long history of having misunderstood this fundamental point.
When you begin to realise, even just a tiny little bit, that you are loved unconditionally, and that there is nothing you can do to make it right for Go – or wrong – you open up to the world of choice. You begin to realise that you can truly choose who and how you want to be and how you want to express life.
You start to touch an inner freedom that you may never have experienced before. It’s the freedom from criticism and struggle and pressure. If you can’t do it wrong, and even more significantly for high achievers, you also can’t do it right, you are free. You are loved anyway, even if you totally screw it up.
If you THINK about this you may feel even more depressed. You mean, all that striving and learning was a waste of effort? So what’s the point of anything at all?
But you only think that way because you still have that deep fear inside you. The fear that is at the root of depression. When you open up to the truth of unconditional love you cannot THINK about it. This is something that has to be experienced, not thought.
And you only need to experience a tiny tiny bit of it to know that it is true and that you will never ever again need to prove yourself to God, the highest authority most of us ever recognise in our lives.
This may be the work of a lifetime, to truly grasp and experience the enormity of what I am writing here. But what a lifetime!
Each step you or I take in this direction opens it up a little more for others. Every time we challenge our need to strive and be worthy and every time we remind ourselves that we are loved anyway, so there’s no such thing as worthiness in the eyes of God, we allow a little more of that Love to be expressed and shared between human beings.
I believe the reason why depression is growing so rapidly now is because we are ripe for this change. Depression is the chaos that precedes progress.
Whether we have a concept of God, the Light, Source or any other way of describing a supreme level of life in our universe, knowing that it is Love is a sure way to heal depression for ever. I foresee a world where we have moved beyond the deep fear of not being good enough and where children are taught about unconditional love by people who are experiencing it – rather than by people who are striving to deserve it!
It is possible to share this love with others – it is one of the greatest of human experiences to do this. It takes patience and a great deal of love (for other, for self and for the Divine in all aspects) but that is the point. When you have freedom and no longer have to strive to prove yourself to a demanding God, you more naturally choose to experience true love and freedom and other great qualities of life. And you choose to share them with others – not because you must, but because you can.
If you want help to heal depression, please sign up for The Journey – from depression to health, happiness and purpose.