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Depression

Depression and spirituality, religion and God

Being spiritual or religious meant different things to different people, including believing in a higher purpose, a higher intelligence, a reason for existing, or God. Some people also belonged to a religion and church. The spiritual and religious people we talked to in particular sought a deeper reason for their depression.

 

As a Christian, he feels that all events have reasons, including depression, even if the reasons...

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Age at interview: 68
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57
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As a Christian I believe there's got to be a reason behind everything and I don't know, I don't know, I haven't got to the bottom of that yet, and it may be that I won't. I thought originally that possibly I was, I was going to be used to help other fellow sufferers. Well, I started off on that track, but when it' sort of had to fall off'. I don't know, I haven't yet found the reason for me having the depression, but I don't fret over it, I think there has to be a reason.

Religion and spirituality could either support people's wellbeing or undermine it, depending on how people thought about their spirituality. Those who felt supported and helped by their spirituality believed in a loving, forgiving, benevolent higher power. This could be a wonderful source of comfort in depression. The trouble is that just as it is hard to feel connected to other people while depressed, it is difficult to feel connected to God. A leap of trust and faith is frequently needed to be spiritual while depressed.

 

As a Catholic gay male, his Christianity has been a great source of comfort, and he has never...

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 37
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But yes, my, my Christian faith, which I've had for, you know well, since baptism of it in practise.  It has come into play more when things have been black with depression and all the other unhappinesses. And it's been a great source of solace because I believe personally that the love of God is there and unchangeable and never goes away no matter what I do. He made me like this. He knew what he was doing. He made me and he loves me. I get myself into scrapes. Other people get me into scrapes but at the end of the day, he is always there. 

And to take that one stage further although as a gay man the Catholic Church isn't, is not in favour of homosexuality and views it with some rancour, and views it as a sin...  I have never ever had condemnation direct or implicit from a priest or any congregation in any Catholic Church I have ever worshipped in. Far from it, one priest in particular, no in fact all of them in their very different ways from young men to, to much older men, have all of them in their ways been very loving and caring and supportive both to me and my partner through the bad times as well as the good. And yes, they've been very loving and very caring in the ways that I think our Lord would have expected. And the cant and hypocrisy of those who condemn, who condemn the sinner out of hand particularly some fundamental religious groups, I think is just appalling.

When religion or spirituality worked against wellbeing, it contributed to negative thinking patterns, anxiety and depression. As children, some people had picked up the religious message that 'good behaviour leads to heaven, and bad behaviour leads to hell.' This idea had been frightening and unhelpful when they were children. Nevertheless, such early messages could be challenged as part of becoming an adult, and recovering from depression. For instance, one young man in his thirties decided to turn away from Christianity because of his difficulties with the notion of 'sin,' as well as the fact that he never actually felt a personal connection to Jesus.

 

Had a crisis of faith in Christianity where he did not feel a relationship with Jesus, and had...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
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I was actually a Christian, I'm not a Christian any more, I sort of went through a crisis of faith a few years afterwards which, again is quite, is quite relevant, I think quite relevant to depression.

In what sense?

Well, Christianity has got some quite powerful symbols in it about redemption and death and somebody dying for your sins. And quite a strong feeling of sin, actually, of a feeling of blame or some, whether you can use the word 'stigma' in that context that attaches to somebody who's, who's somehow failed. But it also, you know, it's got a positive aspect to it as well, it's got the idea that one should be able to be guided by God's will if one reflects on it and reads on it and such like. And some people are supposed to be called by God, but I never felt that way you know, and I never really had this so-called personal relationship with Jesus that many, you know fervent Christians talk about.

I mean I had a conflict in my mind between science, which I felt I understood pretty well, and the Bible, and I was always trying to reconcile them. This is something I was doing, you know even as a kid, you know from the age of 11'. And from the age of 11 and, ultimately, it went down to the side of being a heathen, and not really worrying about being damned, because I don't even believe in things like sin any more. I find them to be very'. to be a very exacting kind of religion'

Some believed that prayer could have a healing effect. Through prayer, one woman gained a sense of comfort and a feeling that God would always 'sustain' her and not prolong her suffering, even though she had experienced severe and long episodes of depression. While people could say formal prayers, they did not have to know particular prayers. Some people simply talk to a higher power/God as if they were talking to another person or an absent therapist. Some asked others to pray for them, such as when they were too unwell to pray themselves. While depressed people did not necessarily feel there was any benefit to praying at the time, they felt it was helpful in the long term. One woman used a metaphor of an iceberg melting in the sun to explain how she thought prayer helped people.

 

Feels that God has sustained her through depression and not let her suffer too much, despite...

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
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I think there are a lot of things we actually don't understand, and up to a point, but probably in depression, the depths of depression, you can't really do anything about. But prayer does help, and believing that the holy spirit will sustain... that God will not allow us to suffer too much, and will give us the strength to cope. It is often rubbished, but there again, that's what I believe. I have been sustained. It doesn't mean I've never thought of suicide in the real pits... in the 60's, in the 1960's I suppose, there were times when, "I just don't want to be here anymore, this is so incredibly painful, my life is such a mess... I feel a wreck, I am so unhappy, I am so miserable... What else can there be..." This is particularly in a period of depression that just went on and on and on. I didn't have faith then, I didn't even attempt to... I didn't attempt suicide, it doesn't mean to say I didn't think about it.

 

Explains that prayer and God helped him in ways that are unclear, yet he feels it at least helped...

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Age at interview: 68
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57
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How has prayer helped, well I guess that as I say, the Lord had a purpose behind me having depression, and I was content. It didn't make sense to me because, well it just didn't make sense to me, but I had to believe that was it. I used a psalm, Psalm 100, when I was going through the worst of it.

Well you'd have to look it up in the Bible, but part of it says the Lord is good, his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endures to all generations. And I had to believe you know, there was always'. there was always something to give praise, for and give thanks for, because you get exceedingly gloomy [laughs]' you're not very good company when you're in the depths. But I had to believe that, and that may'. I think that it helped.

I don't know, I can't say if I'd have been any different without those beliefs. Certainly it kept me and the wife's marriage together, I believe that. So I give thanks for that.

 

Along with getting the right balance of medication, says she found talking to God gave her strength.

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Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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Although saying like you know never give up that is one thing I've really, really learned. You can nay, there's never, never, for nobody a magic pill. People said that to me for years and years. Ah there is no magic pill you need to just do this and you need to just do that. But I can see that now, there is no magic pill, but I thought I'm no weak. I am strong enough to [laugh]. And I don't go to church, but you see in the last few months I've never spoken with God so much in my life. I said I think this man is giving me the strength to carry on for what I am coming through. I said to him am I going to get peace in life?

 
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Says that praying is like talking to someone who already knows you well, and that no formal...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 40
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I think because' it depends on how you look on praying. A lot of people find praying' they think you've got to do something really intelligent and you've got to have some special way of praying. But it isn't'. it's all about talking to God as if you were talking to your friend, or you Mum and Dad, you know, whoever. And it's just about being you when you talk to him, he knows everything about us, he knows what we've done wrong, he knows everything before we even say. But its about talking to God as if he was somebody sitting next to you. And I think until you actually realise that that is what praying is about, talking to your friend'. who Jesus is your friend. And there isn't anything you can tell him he doesn't already know, but he wants you to say it yourself. It's a bit like a therapy I suppose'.
 
 

Explains that prayer worked for her over such a long period of time that it could only be...

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 20
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I mean, even though I didn't feel it (prayer) was doing me any good. And an image I did use, and I've used since to help other people, is of the iceberg in the sun. That although I wasn't aware that any melting was about to take place, or going to take place, of the iceberg of depression. An iceberg will be melting in the sun, and there will come a point when it's obvious and it's visible. And that's what I held on to, that there would come a point when I would begin to feel less depressed.

One question that concerned many people was this' “Why does God allow people to suffer so much in depression”? People with spiritual beliefs who were recovering had found answers that supported them to better care for themselves. Trusting in God when all was a mess and unclear was a common approach. For one evangelical Christian woman who pleaded with God in the depths of despair “Tell me the song and I'll sing it”. Her eventual understanding was to trust in God's purpose for her life.

 
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Explains how even though she did not know why she suffered at the time, she now feels God wanted...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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And I mean it says in the Bible that all things work together for good for those that love God. And that's kind of one, that's a verse that is easy to spout when everything is hunky dory, but when you are going through it, it's a tough one. And I know when I was really sick I was saying to God, "Look I don't know what you are trying to teach me by this God but just tell me. Tell me the song then I'll sing it. Why have I got to go through this? What do you want me learn because whatever it is, tell me, I'll learn it." You know, and it was only afterwards I realised that what I felt God wanted me to learn was what it feels like to be clinically depressed for five years because that has been a very helpful thing to sometimes share with people in the right setting. 

You know when... we can go through horrendous periods of our life, where we look at suicide and think it looks like a good option. We look at everything and think I've got nothing and you can come through it. And I've got a job now that I could never have done before. I still get a kick when I see a new client thinking I've got to build a quick bridge to this person, and get them to tell me about their incontinence or whatever if I'm going to do something to do with their health.
 

Some people said their churches could be very supportive, while others felt depression was stigmatised in churches, and even seen as a sin by some. One woman believed that in biblical accounts of Jesus, there is evidence that he suffered anxiety and depression before his crucifixion - so it was OK for her to have depression, and depression was not a sin.

 

Believes that Jesus was anxious and depressed just before his crucifixion, and so felt it was OK...

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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Yeah, he (Jesus) went through that. You know, he had that sense of feeling completely at the bottom. And it says he actually, his sweat was like drops of blood, and I know that when people are.... It is a recognised phenomenon isn't it when people are extremely anxious the... when they sweat the capillaries can actually burst in their skin, and they can actually sweat blood. So that, you know, these things can happen, and I just thought then you know if he.... if he was anxious and depressed, it's ok for me to be as well. You know. And that was good.

People with spiritual beliefs sometimes acknowledged that people may never actually find out the reasons behind their suffering. Depression could seem senseless and cause them to distrust 'God'. Yet, one young woman who had little faith in God believed that by the laws of karma, things would have to get better for her after what she had endured since childhood, and she did subsequently have many fortunate experiences. It is also worth noting that a number of people, with and without spiritual beliefs, felt they had changed for the better having gone through long and horrendous experiences of depression.

 
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The death of a caring friend and the survival of her abusive father undermined her belief in God,...

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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I thought that if there was any sort of God out there, then he wouldn't have let what's happened happen to me and my family, and other people that have been through similar experiences. He wouldn't have taken somebody that really made a good contribution to the world and left somebody that you know caused so much disruption and heartache and you know problems. And, so I suppose I just went against, I went against religion completely. It just literally finished it off for me, and made me think, right ok I do not believe that there is any sort of God out there. But, I had a belief in Karma, and in a sense of what goes around comes around, and there's gotta be a turning point for me somewhere. And something good has got to come out of all this, I can't let, you know, let all of this, dictate my future for me.

Last reviewed September 2017.

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