Because we are spiritual creatures, depression affects the spiritual life of a person. Depression tends to cause a progressive deterioration of the ability to think clearly and rationally. This means that an affected person is likely to interpret the tenants of religious practice as well as spiritual experiences in a distorted manner.
Spiritual Signs Depression or Mania is Present
• A preoccupation with death, demons, and the nature of heaven or hell. The key word here is preoccupation. Other things in life seem meaningless and the one affected engages in them as little as possible.
• Extraordinary prayer experiences such as visions or which is why the Church spends years investigating such claims.
• Wanting to leave this world for the next, experienced as a yearning for oneness with God or a strong desire for heaven. Again, life on earth seems meaningless. (An exception to this is if these feelings occur during the last few days or hours before natural death).
• Feelings that one cannot be forgiven of real or imagined sins, or that confessing is useless.
• Feelings that one cannot measure up to the expectations of the rules and therefore will never belong to the Catholic community or get to heaven.
• Prayer is filled with negative or self-degrading thoughts or conversely, filled with awe inspiring insights and grandiosity.
• Frequently weeping at mass or feeling unworthy to receive communion when there is no reason to feel this way.
• Feeling isolated from God, the Church, and that nobody really cares.
Spiritual Risk Factors for Depression
• Emphasis on a God of fear and punishment rather than a God of love and forgiveness, or the absence of a healthy balance between those two images of God
• Overemphasis on rules to the point of not accepting the existence of grey areas in ones life. Sweeping judgments and condemnations are signs of this risk factor
• Over-focus on ones sins without consideration for ones virtues or conversely, over-focus or belief in personal saintliness when compared to others
• Perfectionism manifested in things like becoming overly discouraged because one is not perfect or feeling one can never become holy or a Saint because one is too “regular”
• Obsessive-compulsive behaviors such as needing to confess every time one makes a simple mistake, feeling agitated if prevented from fulfilling an obligation or prayer ritual, or unable to stop saying or thinking of rote prayers (Our Fathers, for example) to the point of being unable to complete daily tasks, enjoy the company of others, or pursue interests or hobbies
• Anger, unresolved problems, or persistent grudges against the Church or Church officials coupled with a desire (however slight) to be a practicing Catholic. This is a no win situation that facilitates a sense of hopelessness
• Believing depressive illnesses and personal holiness are not incompatible. This is related to perfectionism
If you or someone you know is displaying these risk factors or signs, make a list and take them to a priest, deacon, religious, or spiritual director or seek professional help in order to determine if depression or mania are present. Remember, depressive conditions prevent a healthy spirituality.
Other Important Spiritual Considerations
• Moods or illness do not change God’s love for a person
• Prayer is the raising of ones mind and heart to God. It doesn’t matter if what is being raised to God is hurt, anger, doubt, fear, or praise and thanksgiving. All these things are part of being human and expressing them when they are being experienced is honest. God values a sincere heart
• A person is not required to attend Sunday Mass if ill. If someone is in the throes of a moderate to serious depressive or manic episode he/she is not required to go to mass. Of course, being in a bad mood does not count
• Whether ill or in remission, doubting or not, happy or sad, it is OK to receive communion. Eucharist is a source of grace and a sign of being part of the Catholic community. A person experiencing a depressed or manic episode is part of the Catholic community even if some members of the community don’t think so
• Finally, spiritual direction can be a good thing so long as the director is not the kind that likes to “dig deep” in order to find God. When experiencing a depressed or manic episode or when at risk analyzing deeply will, I repeat will, yield distorted results according to the condition’s affect on the brain. A spiritual director who understands the implications of depressive thinking patterns and has some knowledge of depression and bipolar conditions can be indispensable in helping you notice and correct the condition’s negative impact on the spiritual life.