Spirituality for Depression


Our Generation has had no Great war, no Great Depression. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives.”- Chuck Palahniuk
Depression is widespread and debilitating. It is the most common mental illness affecting about 4% of the population worldwide. Unfortunately, the word depression is used in everyday language to mean both the clinical disorder and simple sadness. So, someone who for example is grieving about the death of a loved one is often labelled as depressed. That is simply not the appropriate use of the term.


Depression is not rooted in an event, a situation, or a characteristic. Sometimes the depressed individual will point to something as the cause, but the tipoff that it’s depression is that once that something goes away or is fixed, the depression still remains. Hence, the permanence of depression in the face of an improving environment suggests that it is more physically than environmentally based. But what to do for the legions of depressed people?


The most common solution is drugs. But they have troublesome side effects, are not always effective, and even when they are, can lose effectiveness over time. So, there is a need for other solutions. A number of contemplative practices have been shown to be effective in relieving depression. These include  mindfulness training (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/15/spiraling-up-with-mindfulness/), mindfulness based cognitive therapy (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/dealing-with-major-depression-when-drugs-fail/)  and yoga  (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/03/keep-up-yoga-practice-for-anxiety-and-depression/).


It has long been reported that spirituality and religiosity are useful in treating depression. In today’s Research News article “Effects of religiosity and spirituality on the treatment Response in Patients with Depressive Disorders”


Kim and colleagues studied depressed patients before and after undergoing 6-months of anti-depressant drug treatment. They found that the personal importance of religion and particularly spirituality were excellent predictors of successful treatment outcome. In other words, being high in spirituality was associated with better treatment response and lower depression at the end of treatment.


These results are interesting and potentially important, but how can spirituality improve anti-depressant drug treatment outcomes for depression? If we consider depression as biologically based, then the drug treatment may be addressing the core problem. But, years of depression produces a negative outlook on life that is so entrenched that it continues even after the core brain chemistry problem is addressed. The formerly depressed patient still maintains an expectation of a negative future. Spirituality, by way of giving a positive purpose to life may well be an antidote to the dour expectations of the formerly depressed patient. It provides hope for a better future.


Regardless of the mechanism it is clear that spirituality assists in recovering from depression.


“Once you have identified with some form of negativity, you do not want to let it go, and on a deeply unconscious level, you do not want positive change. It would threaten your identity as a depressed, angry or hard-done by person. You will then ignore, deny or sabotage the positive in your life. This is a common phenomenon. 
It is also insane.” 
― Eckhart Tolle


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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