When darkness falls: Faith and depression

You have just experienced the joyful season of Easter, but you feel as if a dark cloud is hanging over you instead of Christ’s light.

Jul 05, 2014

By Maureen Pratt
You have just experienced the joyful season of Easter, but you feel as if a dark cloud is hanging over you instead of Christ’s light.

Your wife just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, but at the baptism, she can hardly hold back tears of sadness.

Your friend just went through a difficult round of chemotherapy, but she hasn’t been to Mass since she found out she’s finally cancer-free.

Even those who believe in Christ and who have vibrant, dedicated faith lives can be just as prone to certain moments of darkness. For some, these moments of darkness can be described as depression, and they can happen even to those who live feasting on a life of faith.

Moreover, if a Christian does experience this darkness, he or she might struggle mightily with feelings of guilt, inadequacy or even hopelessness directly linked to a sense that they shouldn’t be depressed. And, if a Christian acknowledges depression, he or she might be open to ridicule by nonbelievers.

“Why should you be depressed? Doesn’t your faith make you happy all the time? If not, what good is it?” they may ask.

Christians might hesitate to pursue getting help for depression, perhaps out of fear or embarrassment. But to some degree, some of these moments, some of this darkness, is normal. We go into these moments of darkness for various reasons and not all are bad or insurmountable.

Fortunately, today, there is greater understanding about the types and causes of depression, as well as better ways to identify and treat this often complex condition.

Medically, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website on the topic, “Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” It is “more than just a bout of the blues,” says the website. Often, a person with major depression has a difficult time going about his or her regular day or might exhibit extreme mood changes. The website says “it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.”

Young people, even children, and adults of any age may develop depression, and its causes can vary. An accident, death of a loved one, divorce, or other crisis or trauma can bring on depression. Hormonal changes during menopause or after giving birth, for example, can trigger depression in some people, as can certain medications or a serious or chronic illness.

Abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs also may “increase the risk of developing or trigger depression,” says the Mayo Clinic.

Far from being a sign of lack of belief or spiritual weakness, when we understand that depression is an illness, we can approach it as we do other illnesses and seek appropriate medical attention.

Our Catholic faith gives us many resources to help strengthen our spirits as we address depression. Prayer, of course, is an important tool in maintaining closeness with God and with our faith community. Praying the rosary, going to Mass, reading the Gospels and cultivating individual quiet time to focus on God’s healing presence are powerful activities that can make a tremendous difference.

For those of us caring for someone with depression or someone who has moments of darkness, reaching out in loving ways to support and encourage is an extension of our ministry as Christians.

The saints were not immune to illness, including depression. Learning how they suffered and later found great joy can be immensely inspiring to people living with depression today.

Patron saints for those battling depression are St. Columban and St. Dymphna. Through tremendous, lifelong bouts of serious illness, St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, a 20th-century saint, taught and lived the importance of remaining close to God, even during trials. He emphasized how it was possible to feel joy despite our challenges on earth.

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