In his book, Out of the Blues: Dealing with the Blues of Depression and Loneliness, Wayne Mack provides practical, down-to-earth advice that displays his many years of experience in giving thoroughly biblical counsel. Considering the subject at hand, he notes that this book is not just for those who suffer from depression but also for those who wish to help them.
In an attempt to provide hope and encouragement to both of the audiences of this book, Mack writes, “I have approached this task with the conviction that an all-knowing God has given us in His Word everything we need for living and for godliness and that the ‘everything we need’ includes what we need to understand and defeat depression and loneliness” (introduction).
He begins by acknowledging three different levels of depression and the reality that everyone suffers what he calls “mild depression”—discouragement, disappointment, sorrow—from time to time. This sadness is an inevitable response to the hardships of life. In fact, Jesus himself experienced this feeling. “The Scripture reveals that as long as we do not lose hope, there is nothing wrong with feeling the emotional down of sad and difficult events in our lives” (p. 8).
The second level, “moderate depression,” often results from our wrong responses to those things that would otherwise lead to only mild depression, if handled properly. When we focus on our negative feelings and disappointing circumstances instead of focusing on God, those negative feelings can intensify.
People suffering from these first two levels of depression redirect their thoughts before they find themselves in total despair, but the third category, “severe depression,” is characterized by utter hopelessness from which the sufferer seems unable to escape. Despair dominates every area of this person’s life: his physical condition, his behavior, and his thought processes.
Mack next discusses why people get depressed, focusing primarily on three reasons—unresolved sin and guilt, failure in handling a difficult event, and unbiblical standards or values (pp. 37-57). Diagrams and true-to-life stories illustrate and clarify his explanation of these three reasons.
Mack devotes the remainder of his book to a very practical and comprehensive explanation of principles for overcoming depression biblically. The first requirement is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus do we have hope and strength to overcome.
After providing a list of specific steps for overcoming depression, Mack explains three typical stages through which we progress as we are delivered from depression (pp. 87-91). In the first stage the depressed person is oblivious to God’s involvement in the difficulties of his life. In stage two he begins to be aware of God, perhaps through a sermon or with the help of a counselor, but he still has an inadequate view of God’s ability to help him and therefore remains more focused on his problems than on God and is still most likely hopeless that God can help. In stage 3 he learns, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to interact with and trust God and to replace negative thinking with the truth and hope of God’s Word. Mack acknowledges that this process is slow and hard but that it is possible as the believer remembers that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. This observation of three stages is a reality check that can encourage both the sufferer and the counselor to persevere when depression does not lift quickly.
Chapter 6, “Loneliness or Lonely-less,” discusses the causes of loneliness, its contribution to depression, and specific biblical steps for overcoming it. Mack also answers questions on physical problems that can cause down feelings, genetics, antidepressants, and suicide.
An obvious strength of the book is Mack’s practical helps—a multitude of questions to facilitate data gathering, helpful diagrams to clarify points for both the counselor and the depressed person, and specific, purposeful homework assignments for the counselee.
- “So often depression is blamed on circumstances and other things outside of a person, but the truth is that these outer things are powerless to affect our hearts unless we allow them to” (page 57).
- “Rejoicing in the Lord becomes our daily experience only by our own concerted effort and diligent practice” (page 68).
- “We grieve, but we also have confidence that God is in control of all things. We sorrow, but we also have full assurance that the Spirit of God will help us to be strong and that through Christ we will be more than conquerors in all things… That is the difference between godly sorrow and sinful depression” (page 70).
- “Talking to ourselves can prevent problems in the first place, but listening to ourselves almost always makes problems worse” (page 73).
- “Each time a hurt is replayed, the memory of it becomes more intense and more painful” (page 73).
- “While our progress may be slow and sometimes in the wrong direction, by God’s grace, we will make progress” (page 77).