According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is a common illness worldwide with about 4 percent of the population, or 280 million people, affected by depression. It causes people to function poorly and can even inspire suicide. Therapists can offer natural remedies, such as medical treatment or encouraging discourse with others.
As Frank Moncher, Ph.D. and licensed Clinical Psychologist for the Diocese of Arlington and Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, noted, “Depression is a global term and has a variety of causes and manifestations,” he said. “The key distinction is between someone who has a severe level of depression and cannot function in their vocation, versus other forms of depression which are less severe…and don’t necessarily need a professional remedy for healing but can be coped with and overcome through natural support systems.”
Moncher added that natural and spiritual remedies for depression go hand in hand because people have been made as a unified whole body with soul and mind, and therapists have to attend to each of these areas while approaching healing. “From my standpoint, it is important to help the patient to develop a sense of curiosity and compassion toward their emotional experiences,” he said. “When they can do that, they can bring these emotions to prayer and to bring them into their relationship with God… With a Catholic counselor we get the remedy in line with the church.”
Instead of avoiding our emotions, he said, people can approach them with curiosity and compassion. With this approach, addressing where their drives and needs are coming from and paying attention to these emotions can help a client start to heal from some of the wounds that cause those emotions. “For those who have faith,” he added, “doing this helps in their spiritual life so if someone’s psyche is wounded that affects their relationship with God.”
Healing really depends on a person’s experiences up until that point, he added. For example, if that person had an experience in life and feels shame with some of his or her behavior or is embarrassed by emotions, then it can take a while for that person to get compassion for that behavior. “Often we cut off our emotions,” he said, “and we avoid them because they can be painful—like a sense of sadness or an underlying depression and we feel we cannot live up to our goals…and we don’t know what we are doing.”
According to Ian Masson, MS, LPC, Director of the IPS Center for Psychological Service at Divine Mercy University in Sterling, Virginia, “It is important to use an approach, which is consistent from the Catholic perspective,” he said. “An interpersonal approach reflects the truth of the reality that we are made in the image of God. No remedy would be complete or thorough if it does not incorporate the best antidepressant, which is healthy relationships that manifest love and caring, giving, and receiving.”
Besides the typical natural remedies used to heal depression, spiritual remedies may incorporate prayer, confession, and spiritual counselling. “When we talk about the spiritual side,” Masson said, “what we are beginning to consider is the different ways in which one can be spiritually afflicted by feelings that may have both a natural component and some spiritual aspect. This has an importance when we think about the spiritual approach.
“While depressive feelings could fall in the spiritual realm, still the gifts of the Holy Spirit are present,” he said, “And so if people are clinically depressed, they are just naturally depressed and there is still a huge benefit of a faith-filled life,” he said. Masson added that the depressed should “Practice their faith in a parish surrounded by loving, caring people and that helps people in healing… the tomb is empty, and Jesus wants me to be joyful, but I can hope that life can be a source of joy.” He advised that to really heal, the depressed—and probably all of us—should follow a prayer life and focus on the goodness of God.
Focusing on God also means living a life of virtue. “When people are depressed,” he said, “People fall into bad habits: they overeat, or become angry, so building a life of virtue is another way of spiritually combatting feelings of sadness. Even though depressed, people can love a neighbor and give through acts of charity.”
Another spiritual key to healing is forgiveness because people can hold onto resentment. But forgiveness can lead people out of depression even if it is a pure act of will to forgive someone (while they still don’t really feel like forgiving)…and while reconciling with that person can bring great benefit, this is not always possible or desirable (in the case of risk of ongoing harm, for example), but forgiveness can nevertheless lead to healing.”
Ultimately, all people whether facing depression or not should remember and recite this prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola:
O Christ Jesus
When all is darkness
And we feel our weakness and helplessness,
Give us the sense of Your Presence,
Your Love and Your Strength.
Help us to have perfect trust
In Your protecting love
And strengthening power,
So that nothing may frighten or worry us,
For, living close to You,
We shall see Your Hand,
Your Purpose, Your Will, through all things.