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Faith, reason, depression, and help

Simcha Fisher - published on 08/13/14

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There’s a lot of bad information about depression, suicide, and faith swirling around the internet this week. Here are a few things I know:

No, depression and mental illness don’t necessarily take away your free will, turning you into a helpless victim who wings straight to Heaven if you commit suicide.

No, you can’t just pray away the sadness, will yourself to be joyful, or do this one weird trick that will earn you emotional stability and peace.

The truth lies, as is so often the case, lies somewhere in the middle of all these extreme bad ideas.

Many people who are severely depressed are suffering from some combination of spiritual and physical ailments.
Many people who are severely depressed are dealing with some things that are out of their control and some things that are within their control.
Many people who are severely depressed need sacrificial love and patience from friends and family, and also some kind of hard work and self-knowledge in order to make it through the dark times.

And many people who are severely depressed need both faith and reason to help them through. This is not a new idea! Here is a passage from Sirach:

9 My son, when you are sick do not be negligent, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. 10 Give up your faults and direct your hands aright, and cleanse your heart from all sin. 11 Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice, and a memorial portion of fine flour, and pour oil on your offering, as much as you can afford.[e] 12 And give the physician his place, for the Lord created him; let him not leave you, for there is need of him. 13 There is a time when success lies in the hands of physicians,[f] 14     for they too will pray to the Lord that he should grant them success in diagnosis[g] and in healing, for the sake of preserving life. 15 He who sins before his Maker, may he fall into the care[h] of a physician. Sirach 38:9-15

And here is a post from John Herreid, writing as a guest on my sister’s husband Bill Herreid’s newish blog,Life, Liberty and Absolute Crap:

Depressed Catholics: God Wants You to Get Help.

Please read it, and please forward it to anyone who could benefit from hearing an honest account by a faithful Catholic who suffers but has gotten help.

John’s experience of depression is different from my own. I haven’t been fascinated with death ever, that I can recall. But I have had the experience where it physically hurt to draw a breath, to move, to get out of bed. I would hear people talking about feeling better, and that was not what I wanted. I just wanted to die, so that I would not feel anything anymore. There was no experience of anything but pain, ever.  I could see the world, the people who loved me, the things I used to enjoy, and it was as if I moved around behind a dome bulletproof glass. Nothing could touch me, and I couldn’t do anything but feel paralysis and suffocation. I couldn’t say anything true, feel anything genuine, express anything worthwhile. The only thing I knew was that I had to live, and I didn’t know why I deserved that.

So.  If someone is telling you to see a doctor, see a doctor. Ask someone to help you make that phone call. Even if the first treatment you try, whether it’s drugs or therapy or something else, doesn’t work, try something. Name the lie that you can fix yourself by trying hard to be a better person. You need help, and God wants you to get help.

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