Thursday, Feb. 26, 1998 | 9:17 a.m.
By age 28, Dietmar Scherf was a multimillionaire, having founded Europe's first discount stock brokerage firm in 1989.
He had also recovered from the manic depression that plagued him during his teens years and early 20s.
"I had up to 35 (mood swings) a day, and that's of course an emotional roller coaster," says the Austrian-born Scherf, who now resides in Las Vegas. His recently self-published book, "Avoiding and Overcoming Depression: I Love Me" (Scherf Books, $22) hits store shelves April 1.
"You wake up in the morning and you see the sun and it's great, and the next moment, you cannot find your pencil to write something down, and you think the world collapses. It goes on all day," he explains of depression's grip.
A sales and marketing psychologist, the 36-year-old Scherf consults with the CEOs and employees of international companies on matters of sales and personal sanity. (His 1992 booklet, "The Bible of the American Dream," about Texas tycoon and one-time presidential hopeful Ross Perot, sold 400,000 copies in six week.)
He estimates that depression currently afflicts more than 40 million Americans. "You have a lot of people that are sick (or) that call-in (to work) sick all of the time and they are not really sick. You have a lot of people that are angry," he says, explaining that he and his psychologist "friends" have conducted "thousands of interviews" with people in the working world. "We have found that with employees, and even some employers, there's something in their lives that just doesn't click."
Usually, when consulting company executives, he says, "they always ask, 'What do you do (when) you have all of this money, you have all those cars, you can buy a home with cash?' When we see all that's precious in life and corporate America, it's very sad.
"There are a lot of pressures that come into the family and people aren't putting things into the right perspective," Sherf says. "As I sought to demonstrate in the book, there are certain issues in life and priorities that are very important. Many of us live in an illusion."
Hence the reason he began the 212-page volume with a chapter about identity crisis which, he contends, most people suffer from.
The problem, he says, is compounded by ideals seen in the media -- from weight loss programs to male pattern baldness. "There's all those images that are projected and they're actually frustrating people ... because they don't live up to the social pressures that are put on us day after day in commercials and movies."
Not unlike the common cold, Scherf says depression is also infectious. "If somebody's depressed, he's not usually a very positive person," and that negative outlook spreads to others.
Scherf can trace the beginnings of his own decade-long bout with depression back to age 12. "I was in Austria and I wanted to go to America ... but I couldn't go because (his family was) so poor. I started crying, sobbing for hours," he says, noting that his thoughts turned to suicide several times over the years. "I think it's a miracle I'm alive (today)."
A miracle may not be so far-fetched: Scherf contends it was not Prozac or professional counseling, but "the word of God" that finally broke his depression.
During a visit to Las Vegas in 1980, Scherf first heard the gospel from some fellow tourists and later became a born-again Christian. His book is dotted with verses and includes a "very good study Bible," and other spiritual literature on its list of recommended reading.
"One aspect from the Bible is to think of things that are good and positive," a crucial step in avoiding depression, he explains. It complements the message in the second chapter, "Loving Yourself," which encourages readers not to dwell on the negative and to accept their imperfections.
"Go to the mirror and start appreciating yourself, whoever you are," he says. "Of course, it's much more helpful if you take the word of God. There's so many aspects and verses and themes and subjects that tell you exactly how to go about it."
And, as the saying goes, it's cheaper than therapy (and prescription drugs commonly used to treat depression). "People go to psychologists and the session could cost up to $250 right now," Scherf says, explaining that he never sought professional counseling or medication to remedy his depression.
While he doesn't suggest that people quit counseling cold turkey, "I think they should get this new perspective, which is not new because it's Christianity and it's thousands of years old. If they would just take this small effort and look into (his book and the Bible), then they would probably not need the help of a psychologist as they do now."
Dr. Phil Colosimo, a clinical and consulting psychologist and chief of Allied Health Professionals physicians group at Montevista Hospital in Las Vegas, disagrees.
Research shows, Colosimo says, that psychotherapy alone "can be very effective in overcoming depression if someone gets help soon after the incident or crisis" has occurred.
He also questions Scherf's promotion of religion as a cure for depression. "I think having God in your life is important, but I don't think that the Bible was meant to pull people out of depressive episodes.
"I think besides the fact that many people interpret what they read differently according to whatever religion they are, not all religions agree on a similar approach to dealing with people in their depressions or loses," Colosimo says. "I do know that psychologists and mental health professionals do have a consistent approach to helping people overcome their doldrums through research and techniques that have shown to be effective in helping people overcome problems and preventing serious disorders."
Nevertheless, Scherf, a father of four children, says that with the help of the Bible, "I found out who I am, what my destiny is, which is very important because most people never think about it."
He urges people to "approach the word of God, the Bible, not so much as a religious instrument but as a tool, in the sense that we can take the counsel and the wisdom in there ... as a suggestion for a certain life situation."
Initially, Scherf admits, he wavered about including spiritual references in "Avoiding and Overcoming Depression." "I didn't want to put anything in front of people to say this is another religious (book) because ... the issues are much deeper. They are essential questions of life.
"In the end, I had to put the verses in there and I think we tried to be very creative, not to pound people over the head (with it). I had to do it this way because that's what I believe."