Friday, September 20, 2013

The Connection Between Spirituality and Depression

In FreeThinker, Barry Dukes reports on a study that suggests that religion/spirituality could be the cause of depression.  There are plenty of comments on the page and here's the link if you like:

I didn't want to get lost in the sea of comments and I really didn't want to weigh in on the angry debating that went on in those comments, but I did want to cogitate a bit on the content of the article, as one who is steeped in religion and spirituality and has also struggled with a depression so deep that I often wonder how I'm still alive. 

I'm not trying to brag--but I have tried very hard to be a faithful Christian. I've proven my faith and pressed on when I saw nothing to confirm that faith is valid.  I've tried to pull away from those areas of religion that really are unhealthy, even evil, and tried for a benevolent spirituality.  I'm not ready to chunk it all, like some of my atheist friends have, but while it may or may not be the cause of my depression, it sure hasn't helped it.  

But there is a flaw the logic of the article.  

Depression is linked to a lot of qualities but none of them are necessarily a direct cause. A large number of creative people suffer depression.  Does creativity cause the depression or is it linked some other way? If you told the painter to stop painting would that cure his depression? Would a depressed writer feel better if she quit writing? Would you tell the musician to stay away from music? 

There is strong evidence to suggest that depression is caused by chemical imbalance in the brain, and in fact, many have been helped considerably with medication (I'm one of them). 

I think people turn to music, artistry, and faith to assuage their desperation. I know I have. It doesn't always work and yes, it can make depression much worse. Anything that has a power to do good can also be warped to do evil, including and probably especially religion.

My sense of spirituality makes me reach past what I can see for something less tangible... something that may help me make sense of things and make me feel better.  I like that quality about myself--reaching for the unknown, searching for that mysterious Presence, hoping it is benevolent.  

But does it make me happier? 

Well... no.  


  1. You're a credit to the human race.

    I think there's a danger in taking these kinds of surveys too far; like you, I've known many people in Christianity who were deeply depressed and unhappy, and I was one of them. The religion promises an easy yoke and a light burden, which I never found to be true in my situation. If you ever read about fruitarians and raw-food dieters, you hear the same sorts of insistence that this eating style will make you happy, be your health panacea, etc., but the reality is often very different--rapid unhealthy weight loss, teeth falling out, loss of focus and acuity, and worse. But the whole time these people insist they're happy and healthy eating this way. In the same way, when I was Christian I insisted I was happy, but after I left I was able to see that no, I wasn't at all. It's hard to see abuse while you're standing in the middle of the situation and your entire belief system's tied into thinking you're happy because you believe in Jesus. Not all flavors of it are like that, though.

    All that to say that if a smart, kind person like you finds value in being part of this particular belief system, then for as long as you feel that way, I support you. If you ever feel led out of it, then so be it--you'll be smart and kind wherever you end up; but if you die in the traces, then I'll still consider your religion freakishly lucky to have gotten you as one of its leaders and wish every church could be so lucky.

    1. I'm so glad you found a way out of your unhappiness. How are you these days?

      Thank you for the nice things you said. For what it's worth, I know a lot of smart and kind ministers. I also know quite a few who are not so smart and not kind at all.

  2. Those not so kind preachers need to get laid. Or at least go to a strip bar.

    1. I'm sure they do. I hope I'm kind, but I sorta like it too :)

      Sorry I left this comment hanging so long. Been out of town and away from wifi.

  3. I didn't follow the link, so I'm only commenting on what I've read here. I've seen data that indicates that religious people are happier than non-religious people. The problem with survey data is, depending on the questions, and how you read the answers, one can make the data say anything they want.I know religious people who have suffered with depression and non-religious people who have suffered with depression.. I don't buy the correlation.

    1. I think you're right. However, I do think people can use religion to feed their pathologies, and I think many institutions can make people worse. But I think you're right that the stats in this article to prove it.

    2. Yes, that I agree with 100%. Toxic faith is a dangerous thing, and has caused much harm.

  4. Depression can have many causes. I know someone with Bipolar Affective Disorder (the older term was manic-depression). She had her first episode in late middle age, which is unusual. It turns out that she had had some mini-strokes that caused localized brain damage.

    Please get professional help if it gets too bad. You may be able to afford it soon, if you have health insurance. One of the features in the Affordable Care act is mental health parity. That means that doctors, counseling, etc. cannot be curtailed.