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BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS

Correspondent

GILMER–The overwhelming majority of people who receive treatment for mental illness benefit from it, and depression does not indicate a lack of faith in God, a professional counselor told a recent workshop on mental health sponsored by the Valley View Church of Christ.

Dr. Lee Paul, professor of counseling/human behavior and development at Amberton University in Dallas, said 70 to 90 percent of those receiving treatment “saw improvement in their condition and quality of life,” and that it is a myth that “strong Christians do not suffer from depression or anxiety,” which he likened to claiming such Christians do not get cancer.

He also said it is a myth that psychiatric disorders are not true medical illnesses, noting that depression can be caused by a chemical or hormonal imbalance in the body.

“This (mental illness) is not sin. This is a disorder,” he told the audience of about 35-40 persons at the June 30 public free workshop at the Gilmer Civic Center.

His presentation ranged from types of mental disorders to signs of them, as well as non-medical steps people can take to improve their illnesses. But he made clear he believes that medical help is sometimes necessary.

About 50 percent of Americans suffer from anxiety and/or depression, and the idea that the ailments result from a character flaw or weakness is false, he said. People cannot “snap out of it,” the professor added.

“We should talk about” Christians having those disorders, “pray for one another,” and “encourage individuals to seek help if necessary,” Paul said. “There is no stigma to mental illness.”

Depression, he explained, consists of lack of interest in daily activities, causing significant impairment. Other symptoms include restlessness, anger, irritability, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, changes in appetite, weight, and sleep; loss of energy, self-loathing, reckless behavior, problems with concentrating, unexplained aches and pains and suicidal thoughts.

The disease “in men quite often presents itself as anger–intense anger, the counselor observed.

In addition, some depressed persons may self-medicate, including with alcohol, because they do not care about themselves, said Paul.

Sufferers may also have irrational fears, and “a particularly difficult loss can take up to a year” before depression from it is overcome, he added. Should it last longer, the problem may need dealing with, Paul added.

However, he warned that certain symptoms of depression can also be symptoms of other illnesses, so it is important to see a physician.

Guilt can cause anxiety or depression, but “you can resolve guilt,” he said. Terminally ill people also go through depression, but a study found most reached a “point of acceptance,” the speaker said.

Telling someone with depression that they do not have enough faith, or that they are not trying to help themselves, is the wrong answer, he asserted.

“It is a disorder,” Paul said. “We have to be understanding and supportive.”

In addition, the speaker said, not everyone who is depressed has “a lack of meaning” in life, though some do. The depressed may need medication, which along with therapy and friends constitute “a multi-pronged attack” on the disorder, Paul explained.

One factor in biochemical depression is an “imbalance of neurotransmitters” (a substance in the body which transmits nerve impulses), he pointed out. And when the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine are out of balance in the body, medication is required, Paul said.

A hormonal imbalance and some medications can also cause depression, the professor pointed out. In fact, some medications can cause suicidal thoughts and “you should be highly monitored”  when taking them, he added.

The depressed should “reach out to other people,” exercise, “find ways to engage,” give back to another person, and “seek professional help”as “medication can help.,” Paul said.

A minister can help them by approaching them with the Word of God and talking about Christ, he added.

Concerning anxiety, Paul said it involves excessive fear and nervousness, including “panic disorder (which) can mimic a heart attack.” Anxiety starts to “interfere with how well we can produce,” causing some people to feel “I can’t even leave my house,” he explained.

Other symptoms include numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, shortness of breath and dry mouth, the speaker said.

Paul detailed multiple anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder (refusing to interact with people), phobias, irrational fears and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Under the latter, he said, a person might go to bed and then get up to check 15-20 times whether he/she locked the door.

That malady is treated with “systematic desensitization,” in which the person imagines himself checking the front door before sleeping through the night, said Paul.

Sufferers from anxiety should “cut back on caffeine,” exercise, sleep and “seek professional help,” the counselor added.

Near the outset of his presentation, Paul defined mental illness as “a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, or mood,” influenced by genetics, environment and lifestyle.

Those suffering from it think “I can get past this (without help),” the speaker noted. “Maybe you can and maybe you can’t.

“Mental illness is no different from physical illness,” Paul added. And some afflicted with mental problems are like someone with a broken leg saying it does not hurt that badly, so he/she need not visit a doctor.

However, while conceding that some people fake it in order to get sympathy, actual “mental illness is not something you can just get over,” he warned. “It requires treatment.”

Two disorders are autism, in which a person finds it difficult to break out of a very structured routine, and bipolar disorder, which features “extreme highs and extreme lows” emotionally, he noted.

“Borderline personality disorder” tends to be genetic, characterized by going from therapist to therapist, instability in moods and relationships, and paranoia, Paul said.

In another disease, “dissociative disorder,” a person develops another personality to deal with a trauma, Paul added. Meantime, anorexia, in which people become too thin from not eating because they wrongly believe they are overweight, can actually make starving people feel better because it increases serotonin, he noted.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, resulting from combat or being violently assaulted, makes its victims “end up breaking down,” while schizophrenia is psychosis, known by the legal term “insanity,” he explained.

In schizophrenia, persons break from reality, seeing and hearing hallucinations, and medication is necessary, Paul said.