Depression, Anxiety, and Faith — Finding Peace in the Storm
Depression and anxiety are major issues affecting modern society. There are many factors contributing to the degeneration of mental health, with the COVID-19 pandemic currently being one of the most obvious. As believers in Jesus Christ, what spiritual tools can we use to combat depression and anxiety? What does our Faith tell us?
Let's begin by defining these issues. According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” Many people with depression feel a sense of hopelessness. It may be hard to get out of bed, or it may be hard to sleep at all. Lack of interest in social interactions and normal daily activities may be present. Suicidal thoughts are common. The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “...an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Flashbacks from a traumatic event, intrusive thoughts, and excessive worry about a certain event or situation are common. For both of these mental issues, professional help may be necessary. Treatment is often successful with a multi-faceted approach using psychological therapy, medication, social support, and spiritual direction and discipline.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a disturbing rise of death from suicide and drug overdose as a result of depression. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield has warned “Deaths from suicides and drug overdoses currently exceed deaths due to the COVID-19 virus…” It has been observed that prolonged school closures are contributing to the rise of depression and suicide in the youth.
“While the CDC chief did not explicitly link those deaths to state lockdowns and school closures, many have argued that the mental and emotional health risks of prolonged isolation would be as dangerous or more dangerous than the coronavirus itself in many cases, particularly among the young, for whom COVID-19 is less dangerous than for the elderly or immunocompromised.”
Suicide rates, according to Psychology Today, are the highest they have been since World War II. Recently, an article was written by Mark Regger of the University of Washington and a team of mental health experts called “Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019: A Perfect Storm?” The research outlined the top reasons for the rise in suicide. Economic stress, social isolation, loss of religious contact, and barriers to mental health treatment are a few of the listed problems. We know successful treatment for depression and anxiety may involve strong social networks, access to mental care, and spiritual counseling, and the pandemic has cut off these crucial resources from those who need it most. Needless to say, the results are devastating. One third of Americans have exhibited signs of depression and anxiety. As catholics, what can we do to help others suffering from depression and anxiety, and what can we do to help ourselves if we are suffering?
This issue is a personal one for me. I was diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD during pregnancy with my daughter, and then with postpartum depression and anxiety after her birth. I suffered from panic attacks, mood swings, nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, hopelessness, feelings of inadequacy, and guilt for having these feelings. Every moment of every day was a prayer- it was the only way to get through the day. My husband and my sister were the first to notice there was something wrong. By the grace of God, I found the courage to reach out for help. My Dr. recommended a therapist and anxiety medication for my panic attacks, both of which helped tremendously in the long journey of healing. I came out mentally and spiritually stronger than ever before, and it is all thanks to almighty God and Our Blessed Mother.
As Catholics, we know the evil one will assail us with temptation when suffering with mental disorders. Fear, despair, hopelessness, and anger are tools of the enemy to bring us down deeper into our already painful mental state. While professional help is inarguably effective, spiritual help will combat the evil forces against us. The mind becomes a constant battleground between God and the devil.
There is also a temptation to blame all the external factors that may very well be the root of your disorder, but you must be courageous in acknowledging that you have to go to work. Work against yourself- sacrifice, self-denial, accountability, and prayer are the necessary means to having a disciplined demeanor that is designed to conquer evil. God is your strength, hope, and light in this whirlwind of chaos and darkness.
I remember often feeling like I was drowning. My mind was a restless hurricane. Each time this awful temptation into despair would wrestle to take over my mind, I closed my eyes and placed myself into the embrace of the Blessed Mother. She immediately would immerse me in the presence of her Son, and even though the pain was intense, I was above water again. There was peace among the storm. His mercy was my strength, and her love, as my heavenly mother, was tangible. His cross became a refuge, for He was there every step of the way while I was carrying mine.
God sends us trials in our daily lives. He does this simply because He loves us. But, how does this make sense? Doesn’t he just want us to be happy? Well, it is through the cross that we find Him, for we are meant to imitate Him. It is through the pain that we call on Him for mercy, and He is there. Without suffering, we cannot know Him, for He taught us how to suffer with His passion. Through the eyes of Faith, we see Him behind the pain. We acknowledge our nothingness through the trials He sends us, and we see His love. The temptations make us stronger when we do not consent to them, because it is through them that we are truly able to empty ourselves and let God work in our hearts. That is what He demands of us.
Finding courage to reach out for help is difficult, and not everyone will seek help in the same way. Each person is beautifully unique in the likeness of God. Compassion to our neighbors who may be suffering through mental pain is essential, even though it may be hard to understand. If a friend or family member is suffering from anxiety or depression, sometimes simply lending an ear and offering prayers and sacrifices for that soul are all they need. Never invalidate their feelings, because even if it seems surreal to you, it is very real to them. Think of the compassion of Christ, pray for guidance, and do your best to support your loved ones and friends in need.
We should never consent to fear. Humility is an essential virtue in overcoming mental disorders, because it empties us and lets God do His work through us. There are real, evil spiritual forces that will strive to pull us into the abyss, and God alone can keep us afloat. Practicing self-denial becomes a powerful tool in combating these spiritual attacks. Frequent Confession and Holy Communion are undeniable sources of strength, for these are the gifts Jesus Christ gave us through His passion and death. Meditate and pray your Rosary every day. Our Lady will direct you immediately to Christ in times of distress if you ask her to. The cross may be heavy, but God never sends you anything you can't handle, because you have Him as your source of strength. Prayer is essential. God is essential. The sacraments are essential. This is spiritual warfare, and you have the weapons to fight with almighty God on your side. “Praise the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever.” -Ps. 135
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