Is your thinking correct?

The 10th of October 2019 was World Mental Health day – day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. This is a great initiative that began in 1992, however, the importance of mental health should not be reduced to one day as it is something that I believe should always be at the forefront of our minds.

Did you know that in England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (anxiety, depression) in any given week? This means that it’s highly likely that you’ve come in contact with at least one person that has experienced a form of anxiety or depression or you may personally identify with that.

As a medical student, I have had exposure to learning more about depression and other mental conditions. Today I will like to share more about depression and also put a Christian spin on the topic. I desire that you will be blessed or will be able to be a blessing to others after reading this piece.

Firstly a definition for Depression:

An affective mood disorder that is chacterised by a persistent low mood (≥ 2weeks), loss of pleasure and/or lack of energy accompanied by emotional, cognitive and biological symptoms.

Cognitive symptoms – poor concentration, negative thoughts, excessive guilt, suicidal ideation.

Biological – weight loss & loss of appetitie, early morning wakening,

Psychiatry : A Clinical Handbook by Mohsin Azam, , Mohammed 

We are going to focus on cognitive symptoms as I am an advocate for positive thinking and would like us to incorporate biblical truths on this matter.

Aaron Beck is a psychiatrist that developed a theory on negative thoughts. He proposed that there are 3 types of negative thoughts; negative views about oneself, the world and of the future. He also describes certain thinking errors that make a person more prone to depressive feelings. The table below explains these thinking errors. I was able to relate with some of these and I’ve included examples from my friends in the table.

Thinking ErrorExplanationExamples
Selective abstractionFocusing on one minor aspect rather than the bigger pictureI have failed that exam because I got one question wrong
I was late because the bike lock didn’t open
All or nothing thinkingThinking of things in all or nothing terms If I fail this class, I’ll never get a job
Magnification / MinimizationOver-or under-estimating the importance of an eventThey didn’t invite me so they hate me

She didn’t say hi to me this morning so she must dislike me

They didn’t say “thank you” when I held the door so they are rude
Catastrophic thinking Anticipating the worst possible outcome of an eventI’ve got a mole on my face, I have skin cancer
OvergeneralizationIf one thing is not going well, everything is going wrongI overslept so I’m going to get fired

I forgot the cheese, I can’t do anything right
Arbitrary inferenceComing to a conclusion in the absence of any evidence to support itThey were talking about me before I walked in

No one finds me attractive

Were you able to relate to some of those points? When our thoughts are dominated by these thinking errors we will have a greater tendency towards depression. Positive thinking is a habit that we should all aim to cultivate so we avoid an overall negative outlook on life. Now, let us look at the biblical truths about these thinking errors?

All or nothing thinking

  • Since we usually only see/know our perspective it’s important to remember that only God knows the heart and as it says in Isaiah 55:8 God says: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,”
  • Things are usually not as black and white as we think.
  • When we use words like “never”, “always”, “every” we discourage ourselves from trying, pushing and most importantly having faith in God even during trials – this is counterproductive. Remember Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all through Christ who strengtheneth me.”

Magnification / Minimization

  • In this well-quoted psalm, there are negative experiences but the psalmist – David has chosen to also remember the positives and focus on the silver lining. ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.’ Psalms 23:4.
    • David could have chosen to magnify the valley of the shadow of death and filter out the part that encourages him that God is with him. However, he did not, likewise, we need to actively ensure we do not make a mountain out of a molehill and in the process miss out on the blessings in disguise.
  • Another example in which we are to remember to focus on the positives is in Isaiah 43:2 – ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.’

Catastrophic Thinking

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:21 warns us to – ‘Test all things; hold fast what is good. ‘ the message version says “Don’t be gullible. Check out everything.”, the passage was referring to false prophets but it can also apply to our thoughts. Is what you are thinking compatible with God’s truth! You say you are a failure – but God’s word says otherwise – The LORD will make you the head, not the tail (Deut 28:13)
  • Philippians 4:6-7 ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’

Overgeneralization

  • Yes, one thing went wrong but you should never think you are so powerful that one move will jeopardise everything. We are encouraged in Romans 8:28 that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.’
  • A negative event will not continue to occur eternally because we’ve been promised in Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ Stop overgeneralizing a negative event, it’s a piece of your story that God orchestrated for you to eventually benefit from.

Arbitrary inference

  • First of all, you are not a mind reader you never truly know people’s thoughts or intentions unless they’ve been explicitly stated and even then you need to be cautious.
  • We can be encouraged by the words of Paul in Romans 8:31; ‘What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? ‘

A final verse to conclude with:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

  • There are numerous occasions in the bible where the mind is discussed – ” be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”
  • What we choose to meditate [focus] on matters
  • Rather than thinking about the things that worry/trouble you, things that give you anxiety think positively on things that are: TRUE. HONEST. JUST. PURE. LOVELY. GOOD REPORT.
  • There is an upside and downside to everything, some of us choose to only see the downside but I urge you to try to see the silver lining in what life throws at you.

Rather than thinking about the things that worry/trouble you, things that give you anxiety think positively on things that are: TRUE. HONEST. JUST. PURE. LOVELY. GOOD REPORT.

I hope this post has been insightful. Please keep in mind that we’ve only discussed a portion of thoughts about symptoms of depression. Some other symptoms and presentations may not be completely “cured” by changing our thought processes and will require other management options such as medication. I would advise you to see a healthcare professional if you do have concerns.

Stay blessed,

Dara

P.S – Let me know your thoughts about this topic and hopefully I will be back with more related blog posts soon