'Tis the season to be jolly.
Unless you're thinking of jumping off a bridge.
Someone reminded me recently that the holiday period from Thanksgiving through New Year's is, for lots of people, an especially dark time of the year.
We're all inundated with family Christmas specials on TV, happy-as-a-lark newsletters from long-lost acquaintances (whose kids are valedictorians and whose spouses are newly promoted CEOs) and Facebook videos of tipsy, hormonal couples making out passionately as the ball drops in Times Square.
But if your own kids have grown up and moved to Alaska, or you've lost your job, or your husband or wife just left you for a bimbo half your age, you can feel as if you're the only one in America cut off from the comfort and joy everybody else enjoys.
So this is as good a time as any to remind you: You're not by any means the only person struggling. You have more company in misery than you think.
More so I want to urge you: If you're depressed, please get help.
I'm a minister, so it might seem I ought to encourage you to buck up, read your Bible, think pure thoughts and pray a lot. Those are all good things.
And trust me, I'll now get a slew of emails from ticked off churchgoers wondering why I didn't recommend you do exactly that and nothing else.
Here's why: If you're genuinely depressed, then determination, Bible reading, positive thinking and prayer might not help much. You probably need enlightened treatment from a mental health professional.
If you thought you were suffering from a bleeding ulcer, I'd suggest you run, not walk, to the nearest gastroenterologist.
Well, mental illnesses such as depression are diseases as surely as ulcers are. So run, don't walk, to the closest psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed counselor.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, the New York Times ran an encouraging story about how much more inclined ministers are today — including conservative evangelical pastors — to suggest troubled parishioners seek mental health treatment.
"It is no easy task," the Times observed, "in large part because from pulpit to pew there is a silence and stigma among conservative Christians around psychiatric disorders, a relic of a time when mental illness was seen as demonic possession or a sign that the person had fallen in God's eyes."
That, unfortunately, is true. I'd add it's probably not just conservative Christians who tend to view depression and other mental problems, their own or someone else's, as embarrassing weaknesses rather than legitimate ailments.
But that view is changing.
As the Times noted, among other factors, suicides by the children of high-profile leaders such as Kay and Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and Frank Page, a Southern Baptist official, are deepening Christians' sensitivity to these issues.
My own epiphany occurred a little over a decade ago.
During five years of providing intense, almost around-the-clock caregiving for my terminally ill wife, I slowly sank into despondency.
I tried all the spiritual tricks in my bag to turn myself around. Yes, I read the Bible. Yes, I tried to discipline my thoughts. Yes, I prayed constantly.
The funk didn't budge. It worsened.
I noticed my main prayer had become, "Oh God, I believe you love me. If you do, please, please let me die today. Not tomorrow. Today. Please."
At that point, I went to see an experienced counselor who was a fellow Christian.
I told my primary care physician how I was feeling, too.
"I think you're clinically depressed," my doctor said.
He explained that unrelenting stress diminishes a brain's ability to process the chemical that in normal times provides us a sense of stability and well-being. The brain gets sick like any other organ can, he said, like an errant pancreas or bladder.
True, he wasn't a psychiatrist, but, luckily for me, he was enlightened.
He prescribed me an anti-depressant.
The combination of talking regularly with a counselor and taking my medicine saved my life. It also enabled me to continue caring for my wife and to continue leading my church and to continue being a viable dad to my son.
You can call me a true believer.
I believe in God. I also believe in getting treatment from the pros.
Today, when my church's members come to me with mood problems worse than a heartfelt prayer or a friendly ear can fix, I refer them to a mental health expert.
Let me urge you once again: If you need help during this holiday season, or any other season, go get it. It's there for the asking.
Don't let anybody try to make you feel guilty about it, either.
You can be a good person and have a chemical imbalance in your head, just as surely as you can be a good person and have a tumor in your kidney.