Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Psalm 42:5,11
In one of the loveliest of the Psalms these words come twice as a melancholy refrain. They must often and often have been echoed by hearts bowed down in a black mood of questioning. Why, O my soul, why?
Moods are, in themselves, not necessarily rational. Doctors should not need to be reminded of that. We know that various bodily states -- metabolic, digestive or what you will -- can determine our moods. But we still can forget this. We can feel depressed, mildly or seriously, for no apparent reason, and yet feel guilty or inhibited or restrained as a result. Moods can swing up and down at different times of day. I tend to have a mild downswing first thing in the morning and so have learnt to be wary of my feelings at that time. For others it can come during the busy part of the day, at twilight or in the night.
If we know that our moods can be unrelated to real circumstances, we need to learn to cope with them. That wise Christian realist, C S Lewis, has said, when talking about faith (Mere Christianity, p111), that it 'is the art of holding on to things your reasons has once accepted in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes ... unless you teach your moods "where they get off", you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs dependent on the weather or the state of its digestion'. Moods are dragons to be fought.
Of course, if we feel depression that is persistent or deep, or if we are trying to help a patient in that plight, unless we are skilled in psychiatric matters we may well need to bring a more informed colleague into the picture. Nowadays, as we know, there are different ways of dealing with endogenous depression. Only foolish people think that 'Snap out of it' is good advice. It just is not as easy as that. And Lewis's advice is certainly not meant to be so facile. We may be sure, however, that his advice lines up with the Psalmist's further words: 'Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God'.
The next psalm gives us the prayer of hope:
Oh send out thy light and thy truth;
let them lead me,
Let them bring me to thy holy hill
and to thy dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
And I will praise thee with the lyre,
O God, my God
Further reading: Ps 42 and 43.