Bipolar Depression

Depression is categorized as bipolar and unipolar. A bipolar or manic-depressive illness has two poles: highs (called manic moods) and lows (depressed moods). One of the foremost experts of this illness, Kay Jamison (she struggled with manic depression herself) wrote a fascinating book entitled Touched With Firerevealing the fine line between genius and madness (mania). Some of the most creative people in the world struggled with this illness. The following is a partial list that she compiled: Writers; Hans Christian Anderson, John Bunyan, Samuel Clemens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, *William Faulkner, *Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, *Tennessee Williams, *Virginia Wolf, and Composers; George Frederic Handel, *Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky, *Irving Berlin, Noel Coward, Stephen Foster, Cole Porter, and Artists; *Vincent van Gogh, and Michelangelo.

            Those with an asterisk spent time in an asylum or psychiatric hospital. Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Wolf, and Vincent van Gogh committed suicide. In her autobiography, An Unquiet Mind, Jamison describes her incredible accomplishments during her periods of mania. Treating her illness with lithium brought her great relief but also decreased her creativity and productivity. She also said that taking medicine was not enough and that she needed the objectivity of someone else to help her get through the depressive cycle.

The transmission of a message through the brain cell requires a certain balance of sodium (positive) and chloride (negative) ions. Sodium chloride (NaCl) is a salt. In a similar fashion, electricity flows through copper better than it does through iron due to the chemical makeup of each substance. In a bipolar illness, the balance and polarity of positive and negative ions is abnormal. In depression the sodium ions increase about 50% and with the mania they increase as much as 200%. The drug of choice for bipolar depression has been lithium carbonate, which is an inert salt. This reduces the number of sodium and chloride ions which allows the transmission to proceed through the cell and into other neurons. In such cases medicine is the primary answer, but I have seen God set many people free who were incorrectly labeled as bipolar.

Dr. Neil     For Spanish see

Mental and Emotional Signs of Depression

The following are common emotional symptoms and resultant mental states of those who are depressed:

Sadness: I feel awful!

Depression is most commonly characterized by a deep sadness. The “blues” seem to creep up slowly and bring with it a spirit of heaviness. Crying and brooding are common for those who are in a funk.

Despair: It’s hopeless!

Despair is the absence of hope. Despair sees no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope at the end of the day, and no answers for the endless round of questions that plague the mind of the depressed. Three times the Psalmists cried out, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:6,11;43:5).

Irritability and low frustration tolerance: I have had it with you!

Depressed people have very little emotional reserve. Small things tick them off, and they are easily frustrated. They have a low tolerance level for the pressures of life.

Isolation and withdrawal: I’m going to my room!

People who suffer with depression pull away from others. They feel embarrassed to be with people when they feel so low. They don’t want to be a wet blanket in the group and drag the others down by their depression. Although some may think that isolation is a viable short-term solution, avoidance often adds to the downward spiral of depression.

Negative thought patterns: Nothing is working and I’m such a failure!

Depressed people generally have a negative view of themselves, their present circumstances and the future.

Thoughts of suicide: Everybody would be better off if I just died!

Sadness, isolation, loss of energy, strained relationships and physical problems contaminate one’s perspective of self and the future. Believing themselves to be helpless and hopeless, many begin to think of suicide as the only way out. It is the third leading cause for suicide for teenagers and ninth for adults.

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Physical Symptons of Depression

Energy Level: I just don’t feel like doing anything.

Lack of energy, excessive fatigue and unrelenting tiredness are the characteristics of the melancholic. Walking, talking, cleaning the house, getting ready for work, or doing a project can take considerably longer time than usual. The lowered energy level and lowered interest in activities affects job performance. The severely depressed don’t get dressed, and either stay in bed or lie around the house.

Sleep Disturbance: I didn’t sleep again last night!

Having trouble sleeping is one of the most common symptoms of depression. Although some people feel like sleeping all of the time, it is more common to hear about insomnia. Initial insomnia (sleep onset insomnia) is the difficulty of falling asleep, which is more likely for those struggling with anxiety disorders. Depression is more commonly associated with terminal insomnia. They fall asleep out of shear fatigue, but then wake up and can’t get back to sleep. The inability to sleep contributes to the downward spiral of depression and leaves the sufferer with less energy for tomorrow.

Activity level: Why bother!

Depression is accompanied by a decreased involvement in meaningful activities, having a lack of interest in life and commitment to follow through. Many find it difficult to pray because God seems like a distant figure.

Lack of sex drive: Not tonight!

Accompanying this loss of desire for sex is a wish for isolation, feelings of worthlessness, criticism of one’s own appearance, loss of spontaneity, and apathy. The emotional state of depression usually creates problems in relationships, which obviously further curtails the desire to be intimate.

Somatic complaint: I ache all over!

Many depressed people report physical aches and pains such as headaches, stomach ache and lower back pain, which can be quite severe. In a state of depression David wrote, “I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body” (Psalm 38:6-7).

Loss of Appetite: I’m not hungry!

Depression is often accompanied by a decrease in appetite. However, in 20% of the cases they seek comfort in food.

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I get up every morning with no sense of hope, and not enough energy to climb out of bed? Negative thoughts pepper my mind, and I’m emotionally drained all the time. I may have a few good moments, but they never last. I can’t even muster up enough energy to think properly. The slightest little irritation sets off another round of despair. One more bad report and I’ll be ready to cash it in. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t have the strength nor the will to fight. I just want to curl up in a ball and die. It seems like the only way out and my family would be better off if I did.

Such are the negative, repeating, oppressive thoughts of the melancholic. It is bad enough to suffer from such a malady, but to endure the stares, rejection, or pious platitudes of those who don’t understand is to add insult to injury. Determining the causes and cures of depression presents a challenge because the symptoms reveal that the whole person is affected; body, soul, and spirit. We know that many people are physically sick for psychosomatic reasons. We also know that many physically sick people suffer emotionally. I get so many questions about depression that I thought it best to spend a couple of weeks discussing this “common cold of mental illness.”

            David was said to have a whole heart for God, yet his numerous bouts of depression are recorded throughout the Psalms. Martin Luther battled depression most of his life. Abraham Lincoln said, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.” Friends of Abraham Lincoln said, “He was a sad looking man; his melancholy dript from him as he walked,” and “He was so overcome with mental depression that he never dare(d) carry a knife in his pocket.” Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England during WW II, referred to his recurrent depression as the Black Dog. A biographer notes, “He had an enemy worthy of the word (black dog), an unambiguous tyrant whose destruction occupied him fully and invigorated him totally year in and year out.”

It is no shame to feel depressed since it is an inevitable part of our maturing process. Let’s face it, living in this fallen world can be depressing. Approximately 18 million people in America (about 10% of all adults) will suffer from depression in any given year according to the National Institute of Health. Only a third of those people will seek treatment for their depression. Sixty five percent of the female population will have at least one clinical episode of depression before they are seventy. Forty percent of the male population will suffer likewise. Why do women suffer more than men? The women want to think it has something to do with who you are living with, and the men think it has something to do with menopause! God thinks it is a wholistic problem that requires a wholistic answer.

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Uncompromising Witness

The great challenge in this life is to not lose our composure under fire. Can we maintain our position in Christ without deferring to the flesh? In my early years of ministry I was asked to teach the largest Sunday school class in our church. The previous teacher was polished and well liked, but he had a moral lapse and was quietly set aside. The first Sunday I taught the class I gave an introduction to the message and was about to make the transition when a man said, “That is a stupid introduction!” I asked, “In what way do think it was stupid?” He back pedaled and I went on with the lesson. Not a good beginning!

            Sensing that something else was behind that remark, I called on his house the next evening. I have a 48 hour rule that I try to keep. If I sense that something is wrong in my relationship with another, I try not to let 48 hours go by without addressing the problem. He was definitely surprised to see me walking up to his house. They invited me in, and I didn’t waste any time. I asked him if there was something wrong with our relationship, and asked how I could make it better. He stammered for a little bit and admitted to being a little too quick to speak his mind. I was tempted to share Proverbs 18:2 with him, but then I would be no different if I did!

            Actually, it was a very good beginning. I validated my ministry by not falling apart under fire. The class asked me to be their retreat speaker three months later. A couple complimented me for not falling apart the first day. I didn’t tell them that my flesh was ready to fold.

 I was conducting a conference in Nebraska and found out that a very legalistic preacher was tearing me apart, and calling me the most dangerous man in America! The pastor of the host church asked if I would meet with local pastors who wanted some answers. The critic sent a lawyer to the meeting who hammered me for more than an hour. Three pastors came up afterwards and said, “We learned a lot from what you shared, but what impressed us the most was how you were able to stand up against the constant barrage.” I told them I was not going to let that man determine who I am. I didn’t tell them what my flesh wanted to do!

            If we are going to make a stand for righteousness sake, we can’t violate the fruit of the Spirit. We lose the argument and destroy our witness when we resort to flesh patterns. I am unequivocally pro-life, but when you can’t tell the abortionists from the pro-lifers unless you read their signs, it is time to stop the protest. They would have accomplished a lot more if they had sat silently and prayed.

Dr. Neil     For Spanish see

Question from a face book friend:

I’m a kindergarten teacher and I recently received Christ. One thing really bothers me. What I don’t understand is how can psychology and theology mix. I want to be an educator, but finances are hard, and there is so much occultism in the educational system, especially with children!

By definition psychology is a study of the soul, which is totally compatible with theology, which is a study of God. What doesn’t mix is secular psychology, and divine revelation. There has always been tension between secular education and Christian education, and the gap is widening. Creation verses evolution has been the most contentious, but other issues weigh heavier on me.

            When I was working on my first doctorate at Pepperdine University I was taking a class entitled “futures.” There was some semblance to Christianity on the undergraduate level, but virtually none on the graduate level. The class had nothing to do with prophecy. It was about business forecasting. Most of the students were in public education and every student had to make a presentation. One student was an elementary school principal in the Los Angeles school district, and his presentation was on telepathy, astral projection, etc. That was in 1981 before the New Age movement became a public obsession. I watched with amazement how the presentation captivated all the other students. The lure of knowledge and power still entices the naïve.

            As the questions subsided I asked, “While you were researching for this presentation did you ask whether it was right or wrong?” He said, “No, I’m not interested in that.” I said, “I think you should be, because nothing you have shared is new. Such practices are recorded in early biblical history and are strictly forbidden by God.” The teacher thought that was a good time to end the class. The presenter never talked to me again, but I was surrounded by the other students who were questioning me about the morality of such practices. All you have to do is change the names from medium to channeler, and demon to spirit guide and a gullible public will buy it.

            I am concerned for the Christian students in our secular universities who are not grounded in their faith. I am equally concerned that liberal professors aren’t being challenged. We are supposed to be the salt of the earth, and the light the world (Matt. 5:13,14).

Dr. Neil     For Spanish see

In the World but Not of the World

I still haven’t fully addressed the question asked at the beginning of the week. The good man wanted to know if it is okay to find “joy” in sporting events, entertainment venues, and natural conversations about such matters. I certainly enjoy a good football game, and watching “America has talent.” I am blown away by the talent that some of these people display. I appreciate the time they have put in to develop their talents, and thankful that they shared it with others. What I don’t appreciate is the arrogance displayed by some who don’t realize where those life endowments came from. Paul raises two issues concerning such matters.

            First, he says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Cor. 6:12). When I was an aerospace engineer I belonged to a bridge club at work. Every noon we played duplicate bridge for an hour. On Friday I could tell you almost every hand that was dealt out on Monday. We would discuss how each hand was played at breaks. There is nothing wrong with playing bridge, but I had to quit playing the game, because it was mastering me. I probably have enough maturity now to enjoy the game without it being all consuming. P.S. I confess that I still read the bridge column nearly every day in the newspaper.

            Second, Paul wrote, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23). It sounds like he is repeating himself, but he is raising another issue. Is this conversation, game, play, movie, musical, or activity edifying? If not, politely walk out or walk away. In between these two questions Paul wrote, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more” (1 Cor.  9:19). Paul had learned to restrict his freedom to win the weaker brother. We live in this fallen world, but we are not of the world. This world does not determine who we are, nor should we allow other people to do that. This truth sets us free to be the person God created us to be, and allows us to enjoy His presence while appreciating healthy relationships, the talents of good athletes, artists, musicians, and especially good cooks, if we can learn to eat in moderation!

Dr. Neil    For Spanish see


Not to the degree that Paul was, but I have been reduced to poverty, and enjoyed modest abundance (read Rough Road to Freedom). I have given up my home three times for the sake of ministry, and God has more than restored what I lost. I have been cursed and praised. I have enjoyed a public ministry, and I am finding peace in solitude as I sit silently with my dying wife. Paul had learned the secret of being content regardless of circumstances, implying that we can as well.

Being Content in Phil. 4:11 literally means being self-sufficient, but Paul knew that we are not “adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:5,6). Paul wants us to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:39), and nobody can keep us from being the person God created us to be, which is God’s will for our lives. The materialist asks, What do I have to gain by that? You probably won’t gain what your flesh craves, but everything your soul desires like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

“But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money [not money itself] is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:6-11).

Dr. Neil     For Spanish see


Question from an email friend:

As someone who knows the spiritual battle we are in, how do you personally balance ministry, your relationship with God, enjoying life and the things of this world that aren’t “bad.”

This question comes from a committed Christian who wonders how much we can enjoy the things of this world without becoming worldly. Where is the line between old order Mennonites or Amish who shun modern conveniences like electricity and gas powered engines, and the prosperity gospel advocates who believe that God wants to give us the riches of this world for our enjoyment. That has been an issue in Pentecostal circles for years. The older Pentecostals were very ascetic and didn’t wear makeup, and wore little or no jewelry. The advent of television and multi-media ministries has spawned a new generation of Pentecostals who do just the opposite (Recall the early years of Jim and Tammy Baker).

            Paul rejoiced in the Lord that the church in Philippi was concerned for his needs, but only lacked the opportunity to come to his aid. He said, “Not that I speak from want, for I learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both in having abundance and suffering” (Phil. 4:11,12). Well! What is his secret? Is it the next verse? “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Notice the preceding context. Paul had overcome his anxieties (verse 6) and discovered the peace of God (verse 7) by turning to Him and choosing to think upon that which is true, lovely and right (verse 8), and finally by living it out (verse 9).

            Notice the larger context. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near” (vss. 4,5). The fleeting riches of this world can bring momentary happiness, but happy are those who want what they have. Paul knew what he had in Christ. The joy of the Lord was his strength, and that will “always” be with him. More on this tomorrow and the next day.

Dr. Neil     For Spanish see

Option Overload

I finally broke down and bought a “smart phone” two years ago so one of us would be! It was an opportune time, because my grandchildren were getting old enough to teach me how to use it. I grew up in an analog world, and I struggle to keep up with the digital makeover of western civilization. My Ford hybrid came with satellite radio. I pushed a button on the steering column and a voice said, “Say a command.” Really! I said, “Fox News.” The invisible lady said, “Turning to [blank] news.” Suddenly I’m hearing some sex therapist talking to her client. Then I look at the channel indicator and it read, “Sex news!” Satellite radio has a whole channel dedicated to sex. When it comes to voice recognition it pays to enunciate!

            Information technology has conditioned us to seek whatever we believe will satisfy us. I have no idea how many channels I have on my Direct TV, or satellite radio, but it’s in the hundreds. We have option overload, and we look for that which best serves us. Going to church becomes like going to a super market with a list of items that we want. If that class, program or church isn’t meeting our needs we go elsewhere, but that eventually leads to nowhere. When we choose only that which suites us, then self remains the final standard. When that happens we don’t go to serve, we go to be served, and we quickly exit when the server demands something of us. We end up loving things and using people instead of using things to love people. Augustine said that world history reveals a struggle between two kinds of love. Self-love to the point of hatred for God, and love of God to the point of self-renunciation. The love of God is the hope of the world and the redemption of self.

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