Newsletter 598 – Depression and the Fear of Terrorism

PARIS EST CHARLIE 2One of my closest friends is Parisian. He has lived in Paris for most of his life and was there last week. Following the terrorist attacks he sent me an email message stating, in part: I’ve experienced the waves of terrorism in 1986 and 1995 in Paris. I’ve also experienced 9/11 in NYC. I know how to “protect” myself from these tragedies: I usually turn off the TV and limit my access to the media – non-stop media updates tend to format people’s minds and make them more anxious. I do not cut myself off but I deliberately watch less TV and listen more to the radio (to avoid the impact of images.) I listen a couple of times throughout the day – but do not keep the radio on all day long. The more we dwell on negative issues, the worse they get in our thinking and the more entrenched in our brains.

I thought of this when I read the November-December 2014 issue of Psychotherapy Networker magazine focusing on depression. The authors write that despite diverse therapeutic treatments and anti-depressant medications (most of which work about equally well,) depression is increasing and becoming “the most important public health issue in the world.”

Even so, the “entire mental health establishment still regards the condition as an individual problem, confined within an individual skull.” Without criticizing individual therapies and medications, the PT writers note the massive evidence showing that individual depression is in reality “a vast and cultural problem inextricably linked to the basic habits, mores and expectation of our era.” These include our relentless competition, determination to attain unrealistic goals, and “unflagging desire for more–more money, more status, more power, more stuff and more happiness–all of which can create conditions for chronic low mood.”

Just as an unending (media or other) focus on terrorism can train the brain to be fearful, so too can brains be influenced and depression worsened by therapies that dwell on reciting symptoms or telling affected people that they have a solely genetic or brain disorder that is likely to persist. Maybe we need to get beyond the defect model, honor the strengths of depressed people, and help them learn how to get clear of the mood lowering impact of our changing social values and expectations.

It’s a paradigm change to view depression as a social as well as an individual and spiritual issue. What do you think? Please comment.


  1. Interesting post. Thanks Gary!

    I find that I need to intentionally limited the media that stirs up either anxiety or low moods in me. For example, I lived in Indonesia during the the aftermath of 9-11. The news was relentless and fearful and we were vulnerable and threatened. Non-stop news created more anxiety. But it was almost addictive. Needing to watch. Feeling tension. So, needing to watch more. Limiting the news to short periods twice a day for an update helped me tune into another “media” source, God’s voice. : )


    1. Amen, Keith… I find reading – out loud – God’s word (for example, Psalm 91) restores my peace. I trust that as I declare it, He watches over it to perform it! Yeshua = Safety!



  2. How does a “determination to achieve unrealistic goals” play against the tendency to set low goals so we don’t have to “stretch” ourselves?

    Sent from my iPhone



  3. Timely post. Limiting news in any form has kept my sanity over the past years as I have been tempted to panic. Volunteering as a First Responder in Victim Services I have had to train my mind to focus on my Lord who is still in control of the world no matter what it looks like and try to bring that in to situations when I can. Your comments about depression remind me of a comment my 90 year old mother in law made the other week. She suffered from depression for years and was in and out of psychiatric hospitals and even spent time with Carl Yung, she was so desperate to be rid of it. Her comment to me was that no one could help and so she “decided” one day not to be “depressed” anymore and focus on life around her. She claims she had only one short episode after that.


    1. Margie, I love your story. I think others will too. Of course depression control is not as simple as your mother-in-law may imply, but I agree with the Psychotherapy Networker writers that sometimes we dwell so muh on what is bad (like depression) that we fail to see anything else and our ruminations pull us down further.


  4. Reblogged this on DiscoveryL3: Leadership | Life | Legacy and commented:
    Is the world on the brink of apocalypse? Is the end near? Is there a terrorist next door? What do I need to know, and can I get it best from CNN, Fox News or my FB Newsfeed? … Probably “None of the Above”. And, maybe knowing a little less than is provide by the 24/7 news outlets and social media apps would be a better course of action. Consider the following from Gary Collins of PeopleBuilder’s Blog, and a Pioneer in the Christian Coaching movement. He’s always worth listening to!


  5. I agree with the above commentators. I have often limited my intake of the news because I found my anxiety levels were becoming unmanageable.
    As a therapist I have also noticed that people who feel like they have violated their own principles, values or beliefs can also struggle with depression. I wonder if this can also affect societal depression?


  6. As indicated by the DSM-5 the continuum between mood and anxiety disorders have become quite diffuse. Whether it’s depression with a high anxiety component, or PTSD with a depression component, it’s clear (to me) that the relentless media abuse of our brains are moving us in the direction of a pandemic.

    Personally, serving as a chaplain in Angola and developing PTSD, I have to limit my exposure to war related movies and media reports. It’s interesting that it mostly does not effect me, but when my reserves are down and I’m stretched, I have to take extra care.


    1. Mervin, your message is sobering and a support for what I was trying to report this week.

      And along with Suzanne’s comments, I to want to say thank you for your friendship all these years. Did it start during the conference in South Africa: I think it began sooner.

      We must not lose contact now that the distance separates us again (although Calgary is closer than Johannesburg).


      1. You are right Gary, life’s too short not to stay in touch with friends and mentors. You are still on my desk and in my heart every day as I teach the Higher Certificate in Christian Counselling online at the South African Theologically Seminary – the big yellow book being the prescribed text.

        Our friendship actually started in Atlanta at the conference. Through the years you’ve impacted my life in many ways (so I can blame you for a lot of things 🙂 ). I sourly miss the balanced direction you gave to Christian Counselling back then – it’s not integration of theology and psychology anymore, but integration of psychology and mostly Eastern spirituality. The conference in Atlanta still stands out in my mind as a major beacon. If you’re up to it, we could Skype and visit.

  7. Gary, this is very helpful. Some Boston mental health centers advertising on the radio push the biological causes of depression so that people won’t feel it’s their fault. But that tends to lead to the idea that medication is the only solution (a biological solution to a biological problem) rather than the notion that self care choices like limiting our daily doses of negative news and moderate exercise can also help. On a practical note, it’s the reason Amy and I still like to get a hard copy newspaper delivered to our house. Once we’ve read it, we can be done with it rather than having electronic updates coming into our email all day long.


  8. I am so glad to see your post and your new email address, Brad. Are you enjoying your first winter in the south? Still leading the international charge? Like my relationship with Mervin (see above) you and I must not lose contact although I realize that I have been the culprit here.


    1. Gary, we are enjoying the south. Sorry you didn’t have my new email. I’ve been the culprit too. Starting in April the transition from Mass. to Miss. was slow, complicated, and all-consuming. Let’s touch base. I’ll send you an email.


  9. Excellent article Gary. As a coach I have to keep a positive mental attitude which is why I seldom listen or watch the news. As a child I grew up in Northern Ireland during the conflict. The news was always on on the radio and TV with newspapers everywhere telling me the latest analysis of the who or what was threatening me. My parents were obsessed with the news. I once won the current affairs quiz as an 10 year old at school beating over a hundred other much older kids. Now I seldom listen or watch the news. It hurts too much.

    As a coach and a Christian I am left with a dilemma. How do I remain upbeat and positive without being ignorant of the issues in the world? I find the only solution is to ask my wife to keep me up to date on what I need to know. It’s easier to hear bad news from someone who loves you than some grim faced reporter.


  10. Good article, Gary. I have watched, anecdotally, depression and intensity increase among my students here in Washington, D.C. I keep reminding them not to take themselves so seriously but they are driven to succeed, embedded in their smart phones, and some are driven by what we call “snow plow parents” who have a wonderful plan for their lives. Meanwhile I watch kids from more disadvantaged backgrounds lose heart and withdraw. It is a real concern.


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