(March 5, 2008)

I have been thinking of why some people who have depression decide they want to die and then take the drastic action to commit suicide. Others with depression – though suffering – choose to live, no matter how dark their life has become. What’s the difference? How can we persuade those who want to die that life is worth living? How can we persuade them to choose life, not death? How can we help them find meaning in life?

In 1946, as a result of his experiences as an inmate in a concentration camp, Viktor Frankl wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl concludes from his experience that a prisoner’s psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice he always has even in severe suffering. The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a faith in the future, and that once a prisoner loses that faith, he is doomed.

Frankl quotes Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

We who live with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder can learn from this. We know that we’re going to hit depressions. Depression is for us unavoidable. What we need to do is to create a life for ourselves that is meaningful. During the times we’re well we can build purpose into our lives, purpose that will be so important to us that we will hang on to the hope it gives, even during times of depression. We can choose to create a life for ourselves that will be so rewarding that we would not want to lose it, no matter how difficult the struggle becomes.

Personally, I have found meaning in facilitating Living Room, my faith-based support group for people with mood disorders. Now when I get depressed, I try to learn from what I’m going through so that I can share insights with members of the group. Even the bad stuff has value in it, though it may at the time be difficult to see. I know that this is God’s work I’m doing and I have faith that he will help me do it, even when things get tough.

Everyone has gifts they can use to create a rich life for themselves, one they would never want to give up. But we have to work on building that kind of life while we are well.