I am urgently motivated to respond to an article I have just read by Jay Adams. The article is called “What Do You Do When You Become Depressed” and was produced in 1975. I read it because it caught my eye on my bookshelf and I was curious to see what a younger Jay Adams had to say in this brief article. I have much respect for Jay Adams and his key involvement in influencing the Christian counseling field back toward the Scriptures. He also has been instrumental in helping pastors re-claim their responsibility and privilege of providing counsel from the Word of God.
The article is a dialogue between Adams and an imaginary reader I will call “depressed straw man.” Adams definitely starts well. “There is real hope for you; your depression can be overcome . . .” Then another great statement, “Depression can be defeated by God’s directions and by the power that God gives through His Spirit to enable those who know Him to follow His Word.” If I am the straw man, I am curious. These statements have probably poked at a core issue in my heart: hopelessness. I may read on. But I will read on to find that the core conclusion in this article is that depression is caused by neglecting to carry out one’s responsibilities and duties, and is alleviated by doing those duties.
Description: Adams draws a distinction between the person whose work is structured and who doesn’t often have to exercise much self-discipline, vs. the person whose schedule is unstructured, requiring them to manage their schedule and be disciplined. The cause of depression, according to Adams, is laziness and neglect of responsibilities, which most often happens to the one who has an unstructured schedule. It occurs when one follows their feelings instead of doing what they know they should do, which causes feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction with self.
Prescription: Adams coaches his listener to 1. make a list of the things they have neglected, 2. get to work doing them in order to please God and the others who depend upon them, and lastly, 3. keep at it regardless of how they feel. Then he says “You can keep our of depression in the future in exactly the same way that you pulled out of it . . . by doing whatever God requires in any low period of life, whether you feel like it or not. And be sure to schedule your life in the future, and then stick to the schedule, no matter how you feel.”
There you have it. The description of how depression happens and the prescription for getting out of it. Is there any merit to this? Yes, of course. Laziness and failure to accomplish necessary tasks can often compound, or influence the downward spiral into hopelessness. And the guilt of neglecting responsibilities can always be a factor in depression. But is this the whole picture? Is this really a skillful, caring, responsible, and empathetic description of what is really going on in our depressed straw man?