A guest post written by John D. Clague, media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Oregon.
I have a friend who suffers from SAD — seasonal affective disorder. The long periods of clouds and rain depress her so much that she feels she can no longer live in the northwest. She and her husband are actively looking to work and live in a sunny climate.
My friend is not alone in her depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. suffer from depression.
Moments of temporarily feeling blue are not uncommon for most people at some point in their life. Chronic depression, however, goes far beyond temporary bouts to a persistent state of sadness without a cause or as a response to an event beyond what would be considered normal.
But feelings of sadness aren’t all that’s at stake.
The CDC also reports that
“Depression is a mental illness that can be costly and debilitating to sufferers. Depression can adversely affect the course and outcome of common chronic conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Depression also can result in increased work absenteeism, short-term disability, and decreased productivity.”
Left untreated this relationship between depression and other chronic illnesses can have serious consequences.
Even though a common treatment is to prescribe antidepressant medications, what’s interesting is that research is showing that except for the most severe cases, the active ingredients in the pills isn’t what makes the patient feel better. Rather, it’s the placebo effect, a belief that the treatment will help, which improves their outlook.
Researchers such as Irving Kirsch, Associate Director of the Placebo Studies Program at the Harvard Medical School, are finding that a key reason placebos work is that the recipient’s relationship with the person caring for them, or administering the drug, is therapeutic in and of itself. It doesn’t matter which drug they are given, whether a placebo or a bona fide antidepressant. Randomized clinical trials studying placebos are showing this to be true.
If antidepressants work through the placebo effect, and therapeutic relationships are a key factor in the effectiveness of placebos, then perhaps there are other relationships that can effectively treat depression without the ritual of pill-taking.
Carmen is a nurse practitioner who found herself in a deep depressive mental state after her son enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Iraq. She describes her journey on her website Naturally-Holistic.net. She eventually worked her way out of the depression, and without apology she claims that: “No matter how you look at it, there is a relationship between depression and spirituality.”
She makes four important points about how she emerged from her depression that have a direct connection to my practice of spirituality. Two of them are making the choice to be happy, and finding gratitude in every situation. The other two points, however, center on relationships.
She tells us to nurture important relationships, especially with God and to find “…something to love about every situation-even when it was really hard. Choose Love EVERY time.”
Not surprisingly, Carmen’s experience is backed up by research.
“Studies have shown that religious people are less likely to become depressed and anxious than their nonreligious counterparts. Frequent churchgoing was shown to be associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression
Whether people are religious in the sense of being church-goers or simply individuals who embrace a spiritual relationship with a higher power, this premise seems to hold up. For example:
“…people who practiced prayer or meditation to reduce moderate to severe anxiety showed marked improvement after three months”
Research is important in learning what’s effective in treating depression. But personal experience is just as important in understanding these dynamics as I found with Carmen’s story.
I have a daily practice of reading the Bible. It helps me to maintain a spiritually-based “therapeutic relationship” with a higher Being, or God, that keeps me grounded on a meaningful purpose in life. One passage in the New Testament that I’ve found helpful says:
“… I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
Depression is very real and serious for those who suffer from this condition. It’s encouraging to know that there are options that don’t carry negative side effects, and which aren’t based on the trickery behind placebos.
Perhaps nurturing a relationship, spiritually, with a higher Being is the therapy that will lift the fog and let the light shine.