Depression is a serious mental illness that affects five percent of people worldwide. For many, spirituality helps them manage their depressive symptoms and eventually find healing. But can that work for you? Perhaps you’re dealing with depression and you wonder if a higher power could truly be the answer. Read on to discover if and how God can heal your depression.
Five Common Types of Depression
Some of the most common types of depression are major depressive disorder (MDD), persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and postpartum depression.We’ve outlined them for you here:
● Major depressive disorder (MDD): This is what most people associate with the term“depression.” With MDD, you feel sad, worthless, and empty. Things you used to enjoy are no longer enjoyable. Other symptoms include having trouble sleeping, increased irritability, changes in appetite, and fatigue. Suicidal thoughts may occur, and normal daily tasks can feel impossible. Experiencing these symptoms for at least two weeks is what characterizes a major depressive episode.
● Persistent depressive disorder: Similar to MDD, persistent depressive disorder refers to a darkened mood that lasts for two years or more. The symptoms may or may not be as severe as those of MDD—when you have persistent depressive disorder, you can still go about your everyday life, but with a lack of pleasure and feeling. You may also experience an overall decreased sense of self-esteem and purpose.
● Bipolar disorder: This disorder consists of alternating states of mania and depression. These periods can last for weeks at a time. A period of depression is defined by the symptoms of major depressive disorder. In a manic state, you have the opposite symptoms, like taking more risks, making ambitious plans, thinking and talking at higher speeds, and spending more money than you can afford.
● Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): When days get shorter and darker in the fall and winter, you may experience symptoms of SAD (the acronym is ironically relevant). These symptoms are similar to those of MDD, like feeling less social or more irritable. In addition, you might feel more lethargic, less motivated to be active, and less focused. These symptoms usually go away in the spring.
● Postpartum depression: This form of depression is found in women who give birth to a child. Symptoms include the typical signs ofMDD, like extreme mood swings or withdrawing from family and friends, as well as some unique to postpartum depression, like having difficulty bonding with your baby or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. For some women, these symptoms can show up even before they give birth.
Like most illnesses, all forms of depression differ in severity from person to person. Each case is so different, which is why there’s no universal cure for depression. Everyone needs to find what works for them. Not sure where to start? Our advice is to think about depression in the context of your overall wellness.
Depression and Dimensions of Wellness
Dr. Margaret Swarbrick has identified eight major dimensions of wellness:
Depression may be a mental illness; however, its effects are not confined just to your mental/emotional dimension of wellness.Depression affects all parts of your overall wellbeing. Feeling depressed can often lead to opting out of social commitments (social dimension). It may alter your ability to concentrate(intellectual dimension) or influence you to eat not enough or too much food(physical dimension). Depression also is associated with a decreased sense of meaning and purpose (spiritual dimension).
Debbie L. Stoewen, a social worker with an emphasis in wellness, says that attention must be given to all eight dimensions of wellness. Neglecting any one sphere of your wellness for an extended period of time will have a negative impact on the others (examples of this are given in the above paragraph). The different dimensions of wellness do not, however, need to be equally balanced. Stoewen says “we should aim, instead, to strive for a ‘personal harmony’ that feels most authentic to us. We naturally have our own priorities, approaches, and aspirations, including our own views of what it means to live life fully.”
This holistic view of health is often overlooked when it comes to treating depression. It explains why certain paths to healing work better for some than they do for others. Which dimensions of wellness take more priority in your life? What does your personal harmony look like? When you’re suffering from depression, your overall wellbeing is unbalanced—and it’s not your fault! But healing is a process in which you return to your personal harmony. It involves all parts of you.
Treatment for Depression
Having depression can make you feel like you’ve lost a sense of who you are, which can often make you even more self-critical, worsening your depressive symptoms. Finding the right treatment can be difficult, and it often involves a lot of trial and error. Most people find healing through a combination of things—professional help, spirituality/religion, physical health, and strong relationships are a few examples.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it maybe time to make an appointment to see your doctor. They can give you a professional diagnosis and help you identify which treatment options are the best for you. Some of the common treatment options for depression are talk therapy and medication, along with “self-help” practices such as nutrition or mindfulness.
In treating yourself for depression, it’s important to not rely too much on any one dimension of wellness. Antidepressants work wonders for many people, but using them as your only form of treatment won’t have the same effect as using them along with other forms, like attending a support group or spending regular time in nature. The same applies for spiritual types of treatment. Choosing not to seek any professional help and instead relying solely on spiritual practices is not the answer, either.
Think about it. Say your goal is to gain muscle. You start lifting weights four times a week. But you don’t increase your protein intake, you only sleep five hours a night, and you do nothing to manage the stress you feel each day. You’ll probably gain some muscle with this plan—but what if you also coupled it with better nutrition, sleep habits, and stress management techniques? You maximize benefits when you take a holistic approach to your wellness goals, including healing from mental illness.
Depression and Spirituality
So, no—chances are, God alone won’t magically cure your depression. There are other tools that are worthwhile to use along with asking your higher power for help. But that doesn’t mean that spirituality won’t help at all in your healing process! In a spiritual wellness practice, you nurture your relationship with yourself. This self-respect and self-love may help you feel more motivated to take action to seek help for depression. In addition, connecting with the divine can bring you peace and perspective to combat the feelings of hopelessness and anxiety that often accompany depression.
Spirituality and depression have an interesting relationship, which one study from 2008 explored. On one hand, depression complicates people’s sense of spirituality. The intense feelings of despair that come with depression often lead people to question where God is and whether God cares about them. If they are religious people, depression can take away their motivation to attend religious services or talk to a trusted clergy member. Depression can drive people away from the divine.
On the other hand, spirituality can help people cope with depressive symptoms. Many people hold on to the hope that their higher power has a plan for them and wants the best for them. Spirituality also brings a sense of meaning that people with depression want to find. A religious practice is not necessary to have a spiritual practice, although a religious community often provides friendships that can help depressed people feel connected to others.
If you’re struggling with depression, take a moment to think about how you feel regarding spirituality. Are you more averse to it, feeling anger towards your higher power or disbelief in their existence? Or do you feel like God is your lifeline keeping you afloat? Or are you somewhere in between? Wherever you are is good, and it is okay. This self-awareness is key for taking the next steps.
Spiritual Practices that Help with Depression
Deepak Chopra, a leader in the intersections of science and spirituality, suggests that healing from depression comes when you realign your mind, body, and spirit. You can do this through practices such as yoga, self-care, nutrition/exercise, and meditation.In Chopra’s words, meditation is the process of connecting to the part of you that isn’t depressed. He says:
“Meditation trains your mind to become aware of the silent witness within you that is independent of the universe you are observing. This core self is not a philosophical or theological concept; it is an experience of your authentic existence. With an established sense of the silent witness, it will be easier to not become identified with the darkness ofyour depressed days.”
You have a spiritual part of yourself that is untouched by depression. It’s hard to believe, and impossible to grasp at times, but it’s there. Your “core self.”And when you take the time to connect with your core self, you can discover a sense of peace and gratitude for your existence.
The Skylight app has a guided meditation/prayer called“Not Feeling It” that’s designed to help you connect with your core self through acknowledging your negative emotions—or the lack of all emotion, as you might experience with depression. This exercise is for everyone, no matter where you’re at in your relationship with divinity. It provides a space for you to focus less on God if that’s better for you right now, letting you direct more of your attention to connecting to your spiritual self through mindfulness.But if you’d like to reach out to your higher power for help, this exercise also gives you the opportunity to do that.
In the audio exercise, you’ll be invited to describe what you’re feeling, or not feeling, and to say it aloud to yourself. Really take your time to explore what those emotions feel like inside your body and mind. Then, you’ll be asked to talk to yourself as if you were talking to a friend who had the same feelings. Does that change how you see yourself and your depression? And lastly, you’ll be given the opportunity to tell your higher power how you’re feeling, and, if you want to, to ask them for help.
Healing from depression requires a lot of soul work.Depression, in a strange way, forces you to spend time with yourself. It’s uncomfortable a lot of the time, and it brings a lot of complicated emotions. While it might be convenient if God could take away your depression, your journey to healing is a unique opportunity to get to know yourself (and divinity) better.