Belief in a loving God and Depression?


Thanks to a friend’s sharp eyes, I learned of this news release from Rush University Medical Center:

Research suggests that religious belief can help protect against symptoms of depression, but a study at Rush University Medical Center goes one step further.

In patients diagnosed with clinical depression, belief in a concerned God can improve response to medical treatment, according to a paper in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

The release goes on to say that the positive benefit did not stem from hope but in belief in a caring God. What it doesn’t say is whether or not those NOT taking medications get positive benefit from a belief in a caring God.

What do you make of this? Should we get excited when research confirms our established beliefs? Should we look for alternative explanations? I would be curious how they separated hope and belief. Hope and belief that God is active and looking out for you probably encourages you to look for and remember evidence! The more you look for the evidence the more you practice being mindful of something bigger than your despair.

What is your reaction?

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18 Comments

Filed under Depression, Despair, Psychiatric Medications

18 responses to “Belief in a loving God and Depression?

  1. Scott Alexander

    I’ll need to think about this more, but I feel as though these type of findings are self-centered, possibly utilitarian. Something along the lines of AA and their “higher power.” “In order to overcome your addiction you need to believe in a higher power.” The purpose of the higher power is self-serving, not worshipful of the higher power. Likewise, if you want to help combat against depression you need to find a god somewhere that is caring.

    Instead, I feel as though we should be saying, you’ve made yourself to be god. Look outside yourself, know the God who created the world and is calling you to life in His Son. See your ultimate purpose and be free from your depressive cycles.

    But as I said, I’ll need to think about these studies and their findings some more.

    • Joy

      Please do more thinking and hopefully research and learning. You may benefit by learning more about AA which has led many to the Lord before you call it self-serving. It’s just ignorance…. Seeing their ultimate purpose doesn’t necessarily free people from depressive cycles. This statement is common, invalidating, and shows the lack of understanding about depression. It’s no wonder Christians, of all people, don’t get help or christian counseling when they need it. They fear the stigma and judgement from their sisters and brothers in the Lord. In the meantime, Christians continue to have increasing rates of mental health problems, divorce, porn addictions, depression, etc. In some cases, even higher than unbelievers!

      • Scott Alexander

        Actually Joy, I have done a lot of thinking and research and learning on depression, more than most. I’m a 34 year old counseling grad student in a major seminary here in the states and struggled with significant depression for over 15 years. I’m not ignorant of this subject by any means. You’re right, seeing one’s purpose doesn’t free someone from a depressive cycle, but it’s a significant start. Depression, more often than not, is a spiritual malady centered around morbid introspection. Sometimes it’s physical, but for most it’s spiritual.

        AA isn’t self-serving, but choosing a vague “higher power” for the purpose of overcoming your addiction is. Praise God for those AA leaders that DO point people to Jesus. I don’t wish to denigrate AA or any other program, but I do want people to worship Christ because that’s where greatest joy is found and it’s the chief end for which God created the world.

      • In the words of the Puritans, depression *may* be a spiritual malady or may a physical malady that leads to spiritual struggles. Let’s avoid the either or mentality. Saying that it is primarily a spiritual problem implies a disconnect in the body. The fact is, we cannot separate spiritual and body problems (we do nothing without our spirit and body) and to try to do so presumes to speak for God. The Puritans were very clear that our job was to take the “Physic” (medical treatment of the day), encourage daily worship and connection with the Body of Christ.

  2. Amy

    They didn’t have to write a whole research article on it…they could have just interviewed me for evidence. :) I know it doesn’t work like that.

    Yes!!! I’m glad science can “prove” what we knew in our hearts to be true.

  3. Scott Alexander

    This is the weakness of email communication. I don’t disagree with anything you have said. Nor do I think Amy and I are on different pages. But without the ability to sit down face-to-face and have a conversation, see facial expression, and clarify/define terms, I find that miscommunication almost always ensues. Thus, I don’t think I’ll comment on blogs much anymore. I think, for myself, it does more harm than good.

    Thank you for your blog, Dr. Monroe. I have benefited much from reading it.

  4. Scott Alexander

    This is the weakness in e-mail correspondence. I don’t disagree with anything you have said and I don’t think Joy and I are on different pages. Without the ability to sit down face-to-face, see facial expressions and define/clarify terms, miscommunication happens. Thus, I think I’ll abstain from posting comments on blogs. It saves me, personally, from anxiety and frustration.

    Dr. Monroe, I’ve benefited much from reading your blog. Thanks for the frequent and thought-provoking posts.

  5. Scott Alexander

    And that’s what you get for having a weak internet signal. Two of the same posts. Oops. Sorry.

    • Thanks for your posts. I hope you don’t take my comments as attacking. I have appreciated your comments. We are iron sharpening iron. I am in favor of listening to how our words sound to others. That would be may call here just as someone graciously pointed out a sentence in my infertility article that was a throw-away for me but really sounded off to them. Good all around.

    • D. Stevenson

      Scott,

      I’m with Phil on this. I benefit not just from what Phil writes but also the responses. I find that the back and forth of conversation between those of varying viewpoints helps me think through matters. Please don’t withhold your perspective and the opportunity for us to benefit.

  6. Douglas Root

    First recognizing that depression is not a sin and what depression can do, no sin can do. By entering into this pain I have been able to identify the two types of depression; one constructive, one destructive. The first is the despair of humility, of a person who not only recognizes his failings, but cares enough to address them. It is this type of despair that I have agonized over my shortcomings and missed opportunities, but I have refused to become indifferent to my problems and those of the world.

    The second despair is that of a person who gives up on himself and his fellow man, who has allowed his melancholy to drain him of hope. The first is a spring board of transformation and change, the second is a bottomless pit.

    Hope, Faith and Love!!!

  7. Douglas Root

    First recognizing that depression is not a sin and what depression can do, no sin can do. By entering into this pain I have been able to identify the two types of depression; one constructive, one destructive. The first is the despair of humility, of a person who not only recognizes his failings, but cares enough to address them. It is this type of despair that I have agonized over my shortcomings and missed opportunities, but I have refused to become indifferent to my problems and those of the world.

    The second despair is that of a person who gives up on himself and his fellow man, who has allowed his melancholy to drain him of hope. The first is a spring board of transformation and change, the second is a bottomless pit.

    If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. 1 Cor 15:19

  8. stacey

    Imagine my surprise to come across this post, when I have been away for so long. I can personally attest to faiths positive role in my own struggles with clinical Depression. God has held me fast when it *felt* like evrything else was fading into the shadows and I have learned, through faith, by grace, to trust God and not my feelings- especially during the times when the Depression was exerting itself. From someone who has been there, God is a tender father as we suffer through Depressions seasons- I was kept in the Psalms for the entire time. God is such a Good, Loving, Compassionate, Sovereign, Merciful and Commited God.

  9. stacey

    I bristle when I hear some believers try to reduce all of the different forms of Depression into one type: Spiritual. I also bristle when I hear others try to reduce every form to Physical. Not to mention how annoying it is to me, now, when someone says they are “depressed” because they got a bad grade, or it’s raining over their Spring break! I have to be gracious, however, because at one time I too was living the unawares life of the unafflicted. This is also why there must be compassion, mercy and grace for those who are afflicted- even when we are not. Let us not sit in our warm living rooms reading our interesting novels and dare look down upon a brother or a sister who is struggling where we are not, or just as bad forget them and neglect to truthfully pray when we see that there is need. Also humility should tell us that we may struggle in a sin area that they do not, and vice-versa. Each believer is no less an individual than the hand is different from the foot. In fact, I dare say, my faith is stronger than many a faith because I have walked throughand many times been carried through- the utter, destitute darkness while not questioning my God in such a way as to dishonor Him or distrust Him, instead throwing myself upon His mercy and goodness. My trials have been refiners fire for my soul. On the other side of them I have more solid, grounded faith than I did pre-Depression :)

    • D. Stevenson

      It seems to me that we use the word “depression” as if it is a single entity. Yet I think depression covers a vast number of situations, sometimes overlapping, and perhaps more separate than people realize.

      Depression as in the “I got a bad grade.”

      Depression as in, I am grieving and feeling the “down” effects, the very normal emotions of grief. (too often treated with Rx in my opinion)

      Depression as in, my body is worn out from illness, lack of good sleep and nutrition, etc.

      Depression resulting from poor coping responses to an event in life. (A recent “event” and the response)

      Depression itself as the coping response, the natural fallout to a lifelong accumulation of events that is now a tangled mess of emotion.

      Depression as in “Spiritual Depression” (See the book of that title by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Great stuff!)

      Depression as in guilt because of sin and unrepentant heart.

      And I think, also depression that arises purely from a body out of kilter (Nevertheless affecting other areas of our life. Impossible for one to not affect another because we are connected as a whole person.)

      I’m sure there are other “depressions.”

      It is too bad we think of depression as one thing and thus think only one solution.

  10. stacey

    Yes, because what can happen to our body that cannot affect and will not affect our spirit? I agree, although I may not have said so at all, or said so as well. The primary temptation of Depression is to isolate… just going to church on Sunday can seem like a spotlight is on you and your struggles wiht your pain, which of course- of you at all feel judgement from other belivers- you are trying desperately to hide. Of course, it is not the case that a spotlight is on you, and even if others there can asess your pain, all the better because we need each other to survive this Christian walk. If one believer judges another as weaker in the faith because he or she suffers a mentally bound(physical: brain based) affliction then he or she might pray for more humility; how does the Lord treat the sick? And what if it is brain based, does it not affect our faith- good point! It surely does. We need to be reminded again and again that God loves us, this pain is not the truth, that although our mind decieves us and betrays us for a while God is not off of His throne, and He is in charge of our lives not our emotions. …

    • D. Stevenson

      There is an unlikely book that encouraged me in this. I say unlikely because it is a fictional story written for elementary school level children.

      Jip, His Story, by Katherine Paterson

      If you find and read the book, notice the man who sings “All is well”

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