The War On Depression
Chana is a mother of four whose ages range from 6 to 15 years old. She has become more depressed over time because of the bad relationship she has at work with her boss. She also experiences feeling worthless since she does not think that she is giving her children enough of what they need.
Chana has not been able to find a different job and is stuck with an overbearing boss who seems to enjoy giving her work which he knows she cannot do in the time which he has given her. After she does not do the work in time she then receives a barrage of verbal abuse from her boss. After work Chana still has to face racing home just in time to make a simple dinner for her family, helping the children with homework etc but this makes her feel more despondent as time goes on.
Chana feels she needs to speak to someone about her situation since she does not feel that she can go on with life as she is experiencing it at present. She thinks though that her issues are too big and she will not be able to overcome the depression which she is now experiencing.
The United Kingdom office of National statistics (ONS) reported in 2013[i] that nearly a fifth of adults in the UK experience anxiety or depression. The ONS stated that more women than men reported that they suffered from anxiety or depression. The figure is probably so large since the criteria for measuring depression also included mild depression and anxiety.
The year before the ONS report an analysis of the National Health Service data (the UK’s nationalised medical service) showed an increase of half a million patients over the previous three years. There was also a reported increase in prescribed anti depressants. The managing director of the data analysis firm SSentif (which did this research) said that the numbers are much likely higher as many people do not seek a doctor’s support[ii].
One of the simple reasons why people do not go for help when they suffer from anxiety, depression etc. is because they feel so overwhelmed that they cannot see how anyone will help them overcome their problems. The feelings of worthlessness or frustration will cause the individual to become more introverted and lose interest in doing things which could actually help them beat their depression. Therapy for such an individual would include trying to help them feel that they can overcome their emotional issues. Therapy would also include trying to help them understand that they are achieving when they are able to accomplish different tasks in the day.
This week’s Torah portion contains a lesson which enhances any help for people who suffer from depression and anxiety. The Torah portion starts[iii] “If you go out to battle against your enemies, G-D will give them into your hand and you will gain captives.” This verse in addition to its simple meaning is interpreted on a more mystical dimension which relates the contents of the verse to the inner battle in each one of us.
The Alter Rebbe[iv] explains that within each Jew is found two separate identities which are made up of intellect and emotion. One part of the psyche of an individual looks at the world from a superficial viewpoint and is drawn towards the more material elements in its surroundings, this is called the animal soul. The other part of an individual’s psyche is drawn towards understanding his/her surroundings from a deeper view point and is drawn towards the more spiritual, this is called the G-DLY soul. The conscious level of the Jew will be dependent on how much they are in touch with a certain soul and while being in touch with one of them the other will usually remain in the subconscious.
The enemy within the Jew is their animal soul, the part of them which looks at the situations a Jew comes across in life with a shallow, strictly material attitude. This is the true enemy of a Jew as it will lead them away from doing what they need to accomplish in this world and instead lead to a superficial life, with potential feelings of depression, anxiety etc. Such feelings can come from focusing on various hard situations from a superficial view point where there is no natural hope or reasons for joy. A more deeper and spiritual personality will be able to find hope even in the darkest of times, realising that there is more to the picture than meets the eye.
When the first verse of this week’s portion states that one has to go out to war with their enemy (i.e. their animal psyche) it does not mean to wrestle with its thoughts and feelings. It rather means that one has to try and refine the animal soul, through learning (including the more mystical parts of Torah e.g. chassidut), fulfilling the mitvot (commandments) and prayer. The learning and actions influence the animal soul to understand that the world is not just what it sees. The consequence of this form of lifestyle would be that whilst living in a limited, material world, the animal soul would experience and perceive a deeper reality, in which it will want to reside.
If the process is just refining the animal soul, why is it hinted at in the verse as a war? The reason why the refining process in the individual is called a war is because the animal soul does not let itself become refined and it takes effort to overcome the difficulties of doing the right thing. The war is a hard one as the person has already become habituated to seeing the world as a self contained entity (without much spirituality) from a young age[v]. The individual therefore needs to spend a long time trying to influence the material part within them to see the more spiritual aspect in the world.
A person could feel overwhelmed with the situation they find themselves and not even try to refine themselves as who knows if they can overcome the inner struggle? The first verse in this week’s Torah portion teaches us that an individual needs to know that they will be able to overcome their inner struggle. Even if the individual is depressed or anxious they have the ability to overcome their feelings and to carry on with what they need to do. This is why the verse states “when you will go out OVER your enemy”, i.e. the individual Jew is told that you just need to go out and from the start you will be over your enemies (i.e. victorious). Only with the Torah can one be so certain that they will overcome their difficulties, however without the Torah how can one know that they will be able overcome their obstacles in life?
Victorious does not mean that all negative thoughts and feelings will stop, since as the Alter Rebbe explains, we need to go out to war daily. Victorious means that the individual fulfils their mission in the world and is not held back from achieving their goal by any inner struggle. The inner struggle to do the right thing is a constant battle but through our actions and learning we slowly transform our animal desires to G-DLY ones.
Jewish mysticism explains that the world has an innate spiritual essence to it which is concealed and held captive from our eyes as well as our experience. When a Jew uses the world around them for a G-DLY purpose then that spiritual potential is liberated. The liberated G-DLY energy connects to the soul/psyche of the individual who liberated it and makes it easier for them to experience the deeper reality of this world. The individual will then find it easier in future to have more trust that their situation can improve and find it taking less effort to be happy. This is the implication of the continuation of the verse at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, where it promises that we will gain captives. The captive which the verse alludes to is the hidden G-DLY potential in creation.
The lesson from this week’s portion tells the individual that they have been given from the start the means to overcome their personal inner limitations and there is no need to feel afraid of failure. The individual can transform themselves with the world around them into a revealed G-DLY entity. The individual still must make the effort to use their energy to try and transform the world according to the rules of the Torah[vi].
Back to Chana:
The lesson from this week’s Torah portion helps Chana overcome her daily challenges. Chana thinks that her challenges are too big to deal with and imagines that she is a lost case. The lesson above teaches that she can win her own internal battle as the Torah has promised her that she can overcome her difficulties. This does not mean that she can rest on her laurels and do nothing but instead she must, as the verse in the beginning of this week’s portion states, “GO OUT to war”. She has to make an effort to try and look at the bigger picture and see that her situation is a challenge to see how she will react. Chana if she internalises the above lesson will feel an achievement for overcoming a feeling of depression and doing even the act/mitzvah/commandment (of education and love for your fellow Jew), helping her child with homework. Specifically when she finds such acts hard to perform she is transforming the world around her to be a G-DLY world.
When an individual can see the bigger picture it will help them deal with any feelings of anxiety, depression etc. If they remain with their shallow view of the world then they might find it increasingly harder to function in their daily lives.
It should be noted that sometimes the cause of the depression can be a chemical imbalance which needs the additional treatment using medication, prescribed by a professional. It also does not mean that a person who can see the bigger picture should not see a therapist as even then they might experience some difficulty in handling their problems due to a problem with their thinking process. An orthodox Jewish therapist with their tool bag of techniques would hopefully be able to help them. The lesson of this week’s Torah portion gives an individual help and makes it more likely that anyone suffering from such problems as depression etc will actually try to make it to a therapist.
[i] Beaumont, J., & Lofts, H. (2013). Measuring National Well Being - Health. London: Office national Statistics.
[ii] BBC News. (2016, September 19). bbc.co.uk/news. Retrieved from bbc.co.uk: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19967037
[iii] Devarim 21,10
[iv] Likutei Torah Devarim 35,b
[v] Sefer Mamorim 5709 p. 228
[vi] Likutei Sichot Chelek Beit p. 384