Several weeks ago I was asked to present a workshop on depression from a Biblical perspective. I would hardly classify myself as a Bible scholar so I found the request quite interesting but also an opportunity to grow in my knowledge of this sacred text.
Far more familiar with the subject from a mental health perspective, I began researching scriptural accounts of depression; rather symptoms of Biblical figures indicating depression. The term depression is not used in the Bible, however, based on descriptions of thought processes, mood and behavior one can infer this condition.
In mental health circles the causes and treatment of depression tend to focus on brain chemistry and/or our ability, or lack thereof, to cope with life circumstances “pressing down” on us. Constructing the presentation naturally led me to exploring the connection between spirituality and depression.
A feeling of emptiness often accompanies depression; a sense that something extremely important is lacking in our lives. That emptiness seems pervasive in our society giving rise to addictions, over-reliance on psychiatric medications and other unhealthy and ineffective ways of seeking joy, relief, comfort and a sense of well-being.
Many believe a deficit in meaningful connection is a major contributing factor to the emptiness felt by so many. Disconnection exists on many levels. We become disconnected from ourselves at early ages; a compromise necessary as we learn to navigate the large and complex world beyond the self.
Many experience levels of social isolation that have a profound impact on emotional functioning. As humans we are social beings by nature. Research on happiness and well-being is conclusive about the need for meaningful connection to others.
Lack of connection to something greater than or beyond self is not given the necessary consideration as an explanation for the emptiness felt by many people. In the arena of mental health, attention to the spiritual dimension as an important area of exploration and intervention is often lacking.
We have an abundance of religion, psychology and medication, yet, I see evidence of a pervasive thirst for a connection to and experience of the transcendent. Many institutions of religion seem to have departed from the core function of facilitating this process.
Based on scripture, the primary way out of the darkness of depression is a strong connection rooted in faith to something greater than self. Biblically speaking that is God. Faith implies the belief that regardless of one’s circumstances, God or a Power, Spirit, Source, Energy, Creator, Divinity exists that is unconditionally loving, accessible, inviting and receptive; always present, always available, and always working for the ultimate good of the individual and the collective. Our task is to remain aligned and connected.
The imagery of light is often used to symbolize God and depression is often characterized as darkness. The implication is that depression is essentially disconnection from God. Overcoming this condition, as implied by scripture, involves regaining one’s faith in God’s grace, mercy and love despite circumstances – war, rejection, humiliation, enslavement, loneliness, death of children, loss of possessions, isolation, illness, etc.
Prayer, meditation, praise and worship were strategies used by Biblical figures to reconnect to God and overcome emotional turmoil. Non pharmacological interventions used by mental health professionals today involve similarly address thought and behavior patterns; however, interventions that bring into consideration a spiritual element are often excluded from mental health treatment.
I am very critical of those whose only instruction is to pray and read your Bible in response to the emotional disturbances of life. Returning to a place of inner peace, joy and balance typically require more complex interventions. I am equally skeptical of ignoring the spiritual dimension when seeking to relieve mental and emotional distress.
As physical, psychological and spiritual beings it seems essential that we attend to each dimension of self. I suspect that much of the dis-ease and discord we experience individually and collectively result from living out of balance with our fundamental nature.
Life brings experiences and challenges often leading us into darkness and despair. Opening ourselves to the spiritual dimension offers an experience of something greater. Through connection to the transcendent we can source motivation, wisdom and inspiration to face these challenges and find our way back into the light.