Charles D. Hodges, M.D. Good Mood, Bad Mood: Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar Disorder. Wapwallopen, Pennsylvania: Shepherd Press, 2013. 192 pp. $13.95.
Americans are being diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder at a breakneck pace. In this provocative, clarifying, and Christ-centered book, Dr. Charles Hodges attempts to peel back the layers of common solutions to depression, and offers a compelling, biblical alternative.
Dr. Hodges has been practicing medicine for nearly forty years and has witnessed the changing landscape of depression/bipolar in the Western medical community. If you want the lowdown in a word, this is a good book. Dr. Hodges has done his homework, both medically and biblically. He’s not just throwing out pithy Bible verses, and he’s not just citing Christian doctors to prove his point. He explains some key Scriptures about the darkness of life. He also provides quite a bit of medical research to get to the bottom of a serious problem in modern medicine when it comes to diagnosing and treating depression.
Dr. Hodges summarizes the history of depression, including how it has been is diagnosed and is normally treated. Depression is always a subjective diagnosis, and research has shown that there is no proof that “chemical imbalances” cause depression. In fact, “There has never been a peer-reviewed, published journal article that proves that a serotonin deficiency is the cause of any mental disorder” (45). The current medications (like Prozac, et al.) simply create an abnormal state that patients prefer to the symptoms of depression. Dr. Hodges also examines a number of recent studies that showed placebos were just as effective, if not more, than antidepressants in depressed persons (48-49). The case for a disease-model of depression has, in reality, zero evidence.
So what is going on with all these people who are depressed? Dr. Hodges argues that they are experiencing extreme sadness. This sadness is no different than what people have been experiencing for thousands of years. When someone is labeled “depressed” or as having “bipolar” by a medical professional, they are given license to play the victim (112). “The biggest problem with labeling is that we quit looking for an answer. Once we have the label, we have the answer” (154). Dr. Hodges points us away from label-based medicine and counseling, and works toward building a gospel-centered framework for sadness. The good news is that Jesus cares deeply for those who are sad.
Dr. Hodges proposes that, at bottom, a depressed person has been denied something (e.g. health, wealth, friends, etc.) they wanted. In other words, they have been worshiping an idol, not God. Nearly all cases of diagnosed depression occur because of loss–sometimes small, sometimes extreme. Loss is a normal part of life. The important thing to focus on is how will we respond to it. Dr. Hodges argues that this sadness is a gift of God given to drive us further into the gospel of grace (chs. 6-7). In other words, sadness drives us to repentance and trust (two sides of the same coin). This is the major theme in the latter half of the book. When we can learn to repent and live by grace instead of labels, we will be thankful for the sadness in our life (ch. 10). In a way, this book is a “theology of sadness” from the perspective of a doctor-theologian.
While Dr. Hodges understands depression to be a form of severe sadness than can only be solved with the gospel, he has a helpful appendix that explains how several diseases can affect a person’s mood.
The book is confident in its conclusions, yet gentle in its approach. Just like a good doctor. It is far from technical. I have no medical training or background, yet did not find myself lost at any point. At the same time, it is not simplistic or elemental. Doctors will have to wrestle with this book’s solution to the most common mental disorders of our day. Finally, doctors, pastors, counselors, parents, depressed persons, and friends of depressed persons will be helped by this book. I trust that if you read it, you will find it illuminating, convicting, encouraging, hopeful, and freeing. And if you know someone who is depressed, share the ideas from this book with them. They will not be disappointed.