“I don’t believe in medication, I have faith and just need to be more connected to God.” I hear this a lot. Faith and spirituality can be powerful sources of strength, happiness and meaning. I know this to be true from reading scientific studies, listening to clients’ stories and from living my own personal journey. It may be, however, that no amount of prayer or faith can help you get out of a depression.
A disclaimer: I am a clinical psychologist, not a psychiatrist. I have a doctoral degree in psychology, while a psychiatrist has a medical degree and has the ability to prescribe medication. Part of my role is to evaluate whether or not someone could benefit from medication and refer them out for a medication evaluation. Some of the clients I work with are on medication and some are not. I, by no means, feel like medication is necessary in most situations, but there are times where I have seen great benefit.
There are many symptoms of depression that are physical: difficulties with sleep and appetite, motor slowness and physical pains. I want to focus in this post on the symptoms of depression that may be less obvious but that can directly impact an individual’s ability to fully access their faith. There are the symptoms that impact a person’s view of self, the world and the future. Some of these include feelings of unworthiness, hopelessness, helplessness and excessive guilt. Concentration can also be dramatically affected by depression. People who are depressed tend to isolate because they have low self-esteem, frequently comparing themselves unfavorably to others, or they just don’t have a lot of energy. Prayer can require a lot of concentration and focus. The power of praying in a faith community is huge. So imagine the impact of depression on a person’s prayer life when they can’t focus or don’t feel like being around others.
A central part of many faiths is the belief that we are each worthy of love, respect and forgiveness. There is a knowing that we are not alone and that ultimately, life works out and unfolds just as it is supposed to. The ability to make meaning out of pain is one of the keys for happiness. When you are hearing the depressed voice in your head saying “What’s the point of it all,” “Nothing I do can change this situation,” or “I’m a piece of crap and don’t deserve anything good,” it is kind of hard to hear that loving, compassionate voice of hope people can call many things, i.e. God, Intuition, the Universe, a Higher Power or our Higher Self. The depressed voice may start with a whisper, but as depression progresses the voice is so loud that it can drown out all others.
So, the basic message here is that sometimes medication, or other treatments such as psychotherapy, are necessary to reopen the door to faith. It is easier to walk through an open door than to try to beat it down. It is okay to ask for help and know that your resistance to getting help could just be that loud voice telling you “You should be able to do this on your own,” “Getting help is a sign of weakness,” or “You are a loser”. This is the voice of depression camouflaged as your own thoughts. In my experience, God doesn’t talk that way. What do you think?