Depression is not a spiritual problem

Updated: Mar 22, 2019

In Divine Nobodies there is a chapter in which I share about my journey with depression. Perhaps no chapter in any book I’ve written has resulted in more response. I have a file folder filled with emails from people who wrote me about their own struggle with depression. In many cases the story involved feeling shame at church or given pat spiritual answers on how to remedy it.

In my fourth book, Notes from (Over) the Edge, I devote an entire chapter to addressing depression and spirituality. A portion of that chapter reads:

“Let me be as clear as possible. Depression is not a “spiritual problem” or a sign that you are somehow failing God. Our life is our spiritual path, and we live it by responding to situations as they require. For some, that situation requires you seeking professional support for depression. That is spiritual enlightenment! It’s not being attached to false ideas about depression, and simply doing what the situation requires and seeking the help you need. 80% of people who have depression are not being treated. Don’t be part of that statistic!

The outcome of transformation, awakening, or enlightenment is not the absence of difficulties. It is coming into the awareness or correct perception of the true nature of things. It’s seeing the fundamental, unchanging, and underlying truth of your Self and all things. Meanwhile, you have a mind and body that has been conditioned by a lifetime of experiences and circumstances. We should not expect that those just magically and instantaneously disappear.

For example, an unenlightened person who has depression becomes an enlightened person who has depression. Either way, the depression is there. The difference is how you relate to your depression.

Consider that the enlightened person is awakened to the underlying, unchanging, and fundamental essence of who they are. Knowing this, they see their depression differently – their depression is not something they ARE but something they HAVE. They don’t judge it as something “bad” or “wrong,” but just something that IS. ”

- Jim Palmer, Notes from (Over) the Edge

According to the World Health Organization:

1. Depression is a common mental disorder. 2. Globally, more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. 3. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. 4. More women are affected by depression than men. 5. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. 6. There are effective treatments for depression.

According to the Centers of Disease control: 1. One in every ten Americans suffer from depression. 2. The number of people who are diagnosed with depression increases 20% each year. 3. People who have major depressive disorder are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 – 44. 4. 60% – 80% of depression can be treated with medication and psychotherapy. 5. 80% of people are not being treated who have depression.

How depression feels as described by some:

“I’m tired of trying, sick of crying, I know I’ve been smiling, but inside I’m dying.”

“Maybe one day it will be okay again. That’s all I want. I don’t care what it takes. I just want to be okay again.”

“I guess there comes a point where you just have to stop trying because it hurts too much to hold on anymore.”

“How can you understand me when I can’t understand myself?”

“What do you do when you become too scared, too scared to live, to scared to die, too scared to love, too scared to even care.”

“I’m often silent when I am screaming inside.”

“No more joy. No more sadness. No emotion. Only madness. I can’t see. I don’t feel. I can’t touch. I don’t heal.”

“It’s an interesting feeling, really, to scroll through all the numbers in your phone, and realize that there is no one who will understand.”

“Someday I’ll fly away.”

“Do you ever lay in bed at night hoping you wake up in the emergency room and hear the words, “she’s not going to make it.”

“How can you hide from what never goes away?”

“I’m freezing, I’m starving, I’m bleeding to death, Everything’s Fine.”

Major depression is a common and treatable mental disorder. If you or someone you love struggles with depression, it’s important to seek out help. You can begin exploring how to get help at this site. Dealing with depression may involve professional treatment.

If your car breaks down, no amount of spirituality is going to fix it. Maintaining a positive attitude will likely influence the degree to which the car situation rattles your equilibrium, but it’s still not going to fix the car. Fixing the car is a mechanical issue, and responding to the situation as it requires would require taking the car to a mechanic. Likewise, if you have depression, though spirituality might transform your relationship to your depression, you still must respond as the situation requires, which means investigating the available treatments for depression and seeking guidance on what is best for you. In other words, spirituality is not a substitute for professional therapeutic treatment but a motivation for seeking it out without same or judgment. Seeking professional help is not a detour from your spiritual path; it is your spiritual path.

If you cut your hand open, you would go to the hospital or doctor for stitches and not think twice about it. But too often people put mental disorders in a different category and choose not to seek professional help. I wish I could convince people that there is no difference between slicing your hand open, breaking your leg, high blood pressure, reflux, allergies, and depression. What I mean by saying there is no difference is that they all are a condition of the mind and body and to do what the situation requires in each case is to seek professional help and treatment.

Of course, our attitudes and ways of being in life have an overall impact on our lives as a whole. For example, we know that stress, lack of self-care, or any destructive habits in our lives, can be detrimental to our physical and mental health. But having said that, please realize that the notion that reading the Bible more, positive thinking, having correct beliefs, trying harder, lifestyle changes, or spiritual enlightenment is a solution to depression is erroneous thinking. Would they be the solution to a sliced hand, broken leg, high blood pressure or allergies? Of course not. Same with depression.

Religion has done an epic disservice in the area of mental health by implying that depression is a "spiritual problem" that can be healed by more religious faith and devotion. Everyone has seen the news stories of people refusing medical treatment for themselves or their children because of religious beliefs. This is especially true in cases involving mental health issues such as depression. Sometimes people choose to rely solely on religion to address psychiatric issues, in essence substituting faith for treatment.

There is a lot one can learn and explore about depression if they are intersted. Psychology Today has a top ten list of books about depression.

©  2009 Jim Palmer Author. All Rights Reserved
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 Advice and information are provided on this site as-is and may not suit your specific circumstances. We are not liable for any potential damages that may be incurred from this information. Always consult a licensed professional for psychiatric or medical conditions.

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