Social Issues

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 160-191

Honestly, this chapter, which Tim titled “Depression and Your Temperament,” was more than a little befuddling. He bases his entire argument on Hippocrates’ Humorism— and no, I’m not joking. This chapter is dedicated to a medical theory thousands of years old that was completely obliterated by the advent of modern medical knowledge.

What is ironic is that Tim uses the concept of the “Four Temperaments”– even attributing this idea to Hippocrates– without bothering to note that in Hippocratic theory, the bodily humors (yellow and black bile, phlegm, and blood) affected temperament. Tim is still continuing to insist that biology is not linked to depression in any way (178), all the while relying on a theory that totally contradicts him.

Something that amused me about this chapter was reading his descriptions of the Four Temperaments (which are: sanguine, choleric, melancholy, and phlegmatic) felt like reading horoscope personality profiles. Supposedly, according to this test, I’m phlegmatic, and reading Tim’s description of the phlegmatic felt about as accurate to me as reading what Virgos are supposed to be like.

What bothered me about this chapter is that Tim argues that some personalities are far more prone to depression than others, which sounds like just that much swill. The sanguine and choleric personalities, if they’re “filled with the Holy Spirit,” will be “untroubled by depression” (164) or “will never become depressed” (167); the melancholic will merely be “helped” by the Spirit to “try to avoid depression” (174) and the phlegmatic will “definitely become depressed” (175).

Tim is practicing introversion discrimination in this chapter. “Sanguine” and “choleric” personalities are both extroverted: sanguine people are the “social butterfly,” often charismatic and outgoing, while the choleric is the passionate, spontaneous personality type. Melancholy people are creative, but private (think Romantic poet), and phlegmatic persons are quiet and calm.

This is a society-wide problem. As Steven Dison in the linked article points out, in the aftermath of events like the Aurora theater shooting, the media tends to get myopic about the perpetrator’s personality and social life. These mass shooters seem to be withdrawn, secluded, anti-social? Well, that must mean that being withdrawn and anti-social is bad. Whether or not these people are actually any of those things gets lost in all the talking-head chatter about it. In our culture, traits associated with introversion (like preferring seclusion to social events) are rhetorically linked with mental illness, and Tim does that in this chapter.

Tim is also deeply ignorant about the existence of personality disorders. In his description of how sanguine people can experience depression (which they can easily overcome with the Spirit, while the introverted temperaments can’t), what he describes sounds like narcissistic personality disorder:

As these charming sanguines who often act like overgrown children become aware of their own shallowness, their insecurities are heightened. They become defensive, sensitive to slights or criticisms, almost obsessed with others’ opinions of them. (163)

And his description of how choleric people experience depression (“he quickly becomes angry … he explodes all over everyone else” (165) sounds like borderline personality disorder. People with all sorts of temperaments and personalities can experience these disorders, or have maladaptive behavior that echoes them.

But the most frustrating thing about this chapter is that he sees depression as the exception for sanguine and choleric temperaments, but the natural consequence of being melancholic or phlegmatic. In the context of How to Win Over Depression, this is especially bad, because he has made it crystal clear that depression is a result of sin; the logical progression is that melancholic and phlegmatic people are naturally more sinful– in regard to depression– than sanguine or choleric persons. See what I mean about introversion discrimination?


The next two chapters are “Depression and the Occult”  and “Depression and Music.” Not much needs to be said about “Depression and the Occult”– he spends a few pages telling Christians to not learn about it because Satan, and that suicides are caused by demonic possession (because demons like to inflict self-harm, as illustrated by Matthew 17).

“Depression and Music” pissed me off, though. This is on the first page:

To a large extent, the highest musical forms were found in the western civilizations. In fact, that art of music was not really developed to any high degree of proficiency in other countries because of the influence of the various religions on their respective cultures … Paganism has always been dominated by the dirge or the chant. (187)


I mean, I’ve heard this before– I was explicitly taught this in my “History of Music” class at Pensacola Christian College, but it took barely any digging at all to figure out how utterly ignorant and false that idea is. For an excellent discussion of how fundamentalists are flagrantly racist when it comes to music, I suggest you read “Patriarchy, Christian Reconstructionism, and White Supremacy” (scroll down to “Note on Music”).

Also, the only people who argue things like “Western Music is just better” argue ridiculous things like “black music had no affect on American rock music,” which is asinine in the extreme.

But that wasn’t the only thing that pissed me off about this chapter, because Tim also said this:

The once happy music of the West, because of the atheistic control of the communications media, is rapidly degenerating into the same depressing tunes I heard in India, Africa, and China. Unless a musician is filled with the Holy Spirit, he will tend to create morbid, pessimistic, negative music that features a detrimental beat or tune. We need a return to happy music today.”


Also, I looked up what the most popular music was in 1974, when this book was published, and Tim is just so wrong. The chart-topping numbers that year were songs like “The Loco-Motion,” “Kung Fu Fighting,” “Rock Your Baby,” and  “Hooked on a Feeling,” all of which are pretty doggone happy. The rest of the songs were mostly about how much love is amazing, plus “Cats in the Cradle” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Depressing music? Ok, if you listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” on repeat, maybe you’ll get a little bummed (I don’t, I just really like it. Who doesn’t get a thrill out of “and the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they’d made … and the sign said “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”?). Peter Paul and Mary’s “500 Miles” bums Handsome out in 10 seconds flat while I adore it, but even they are better known for “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Different people react to music … well, differently. I will sit around and listen to Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” and John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” ’til the cows come home, but Handsome prefers “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding (I prefer the Sara Barielles version). Tim says that no one “can growl through breakfast” while listening to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” (190) and I beg to differ. Songs written by Martin Luther I find I particularly annoying.

So yeah … I didn’t think my opinion of Tim could get any lower, but it did. Because presenting factual (and racist!) inaccuracies about the global history of music cannot be forgiven.

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