Spiritual depression: signs, causes, coping and treatment
By Julian Lewis • January 26, 2023
According to a recent study, up to 15% of Americans are said to be struggling with spiritual depression. This particular type of depression is characterized as a deep sense of sadness or emptiness that results from a disconnect with one's spirituality, sense of purpose, or relationship with God or the divine. It can manifest in many forms and affect individuals who come from all walks of life, including those who are religious or spiritual and those who do not practice a particular religion at all.
This article will explore the signs, causes, coping methods, and treatment options for those struggling with spiritual depression. It will discuss the various treatments available to address this condition and provide support for individuals seeking help. Additionally, it will address common misconceptions about spiritual depression and provide practical advice on how to cope with its effects.
The spiritual meaning of depression: More than just sadness
Spiritual hopelessness is a type of depression that is characterized by a feeling of disconnection or spiritual malaise. It can be caused by a range of factors, including the loss of a loved one, a sense of meaninglessness, or a feeling of being disconnected from one's spiritual beliefs. While spiritual depression is often misunderstood or overlooked, it can be just as debilitating as other depressive disorders.
Fr. Spitzer on the Spiritual Meaning of Depression
Fr. Robert Spitzer is a Jesuit priest and philosopher who has written extensively about the intersection of spirituality and mental health. In his book "Healing the Culture," Fr. Spitzer discusses the concept of spiritual depression, which he defines as a "profound sense of meaninglessness, purposelessness, and lack of direction." He argues that this type of depression can be caused by a number of factors, including the loss of a loved one, isolation or disconnection from others, and a feeling of losing touch with one's beliefs or faith.
Fr. Spitzer believes that spiritual depression can be just as debilitating as other forms of depression and that it requires a unique approach to treatment. He suggests that individuals experiencing spiritual depression may benefit from incorporating spiritual practices into their treatment plan, such as prayer, meditation, or participating in religious rituals. He also emphasizes the importance of seeking support from others, whether through therapy, support groups, or the guidance of a spiritual leader. By addressing the underlying spiritual causes of depression, Fr. Spitzer believes that individuals can find meaning, purpose, and healing in their lives.
Signs of spiritual depression
One of the most common signs of spiritual depression is a feeling of emptiness. This can manifest as an inability to feel joy or disconnection from the world and other people. People with spiritual depression may find themselves unable to connect to a higher power, experience pleasure, or tap into their creativity. Additionally, they may have difficulty finding purpose or direction in life.
Other signs of spiritual depression can include increased guilt or shame, persistent negative thoughts, and a loss of hope or purpose. People may also find it difficult to focus on tasks, feel extremely sad for no apparent reason, withdraw from society, and experience physical symptoms such as fatigue and insomnia.
Physical and psychological causes of spiritual depression
In order to begin healing from spiritual depression, it's important to understand the underlying causes. These can often be divided into physical and psychological factors.
Let's dive into a few of the common physical and psychological causes.
Personal or spiritual crises
The biggest cause of spiritual depression is generally a personal or spiritual crisis. A spiritual crisis, also known as a "dark night of the soul," is a period of intense spiritual turmoil and questioning that can lead to a spiritual awakening or transformation. It is often accompanied by feelings of confusion, despair, and loneliness, as well as a sense of disconnection from one's spiritual beliefs or practices.
Life transitions or events
Another common cause of spiritual depression is a major life transition or event, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, financial struggles, or chronic illness. These types of events can lead to feelings of major depression including fear, hopelessness, and disconnection from reality.
Trauma or abuse
More than half of people who experience spiritual depression have a history of trauma or abuse. Whether it is physical, emotional, or sexual, trauma and abuse can lead to feelings of doubt, shame, guilt, and disconnection from spirituality.
Physical and mental health issues
Last but not least, physical and mental health issues can contribute to spiritual depression. For example, the symptoms of chronic illness, such as pain or fatigue, or an untreated chemical imbalance can make it difficult for an individual to connect with their spirituality. Additionally, a major depressive disorder, such as bipolar, or other mental illness conditions such as depression or anxiety can make it difficult to engage in spiritual practices.
Coping strategies for spiritual depression
While the causes of spiritual depression can vary, there are a few strategies that may help alleviate the symptoms. For a comprehensive list, make sure to check our other post: From darkness to light: the stages of spiritual awakening
Engage in self-care activities such as exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep
Self-care activities can help reduce stress and improve your overall mood and self-esteem. Exercise helps improve your mood by releasing endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. Eating a healthy diet helps to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs and leads to more energy throughout the day. Getting enough sleep is important because lack of sleep can lead to depression and other mental health issues.
Engage in spiritual practices such as prayer or meditation
Consider attending religious services, reading scriptures, or praying more often. These activities can provide comfort and peace during difficult times of suffering. Meditation can also be helpful as it fosters self-examination and helps to bring calm and clarity during times of difficulty.
Treatment for spiritual depression
Treatment for spiritual depression typically involves a combination of therapy, spiritual practices, and support from others. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy, can help individuals identify, accept, and address the underlying causes of their spiritual depression. Incorporating spiritual practices, such as prayer, meditation, or participation in regular church activities, can also be helpful in providing a sense of meaning and connection. Additionally, seeking assistance from others, whether through therapy, support groups, or the guidance of a spiritual leader, can be an important part of the healing process.
It is important for depressed people experiencing spiritual depression to seek out treatment, as it can be a debilitating condition that affects both mental and physical health. Here are a few practical suggestions for managing and treating spiritual depression:
Seek guidance from a spiritual leader or mentor
Seeking guidance from a religious leader, such as a pastor, rabbi, or imam, can be an important part of the treatment process for spiritual depression. A spiritual leader can provide a sense of connection and encouragement, as well as offer guidance and direction during times of crisis. They can also help individuals to explore and understand their beliefs, and provide tools and techniques for coping with difficult emotions and situations.
In addition, a church leader can serve as a sounding board and provide a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals to express their thought patterns and feelings. Overall, seeking guidance from a spiritual leader can provide comfort, hope, and direction during times of spiritual crisis or depression.
Spiritual retreats or workshops
Overall, retreats and workshops can be a valuable resource for those seeking to address spiritual depression and find greater tranquility and fulfillment in their lives. They can provide a safe and supportive environment for exploring and processing difficult emotions and experiences, as well as offer structured activities and practices, such as meditation, mindfulness, journaling, and self-inquiry, that can help individuals gain insight into their thoughts and feelings and develop coping strategies.
Additionally, retreats can create community and connection with others who may be struggling with similar issues, which can be especially beneficial for those who feel isolated or alone in their struggles. These retreats or workshops typically involve group discussions and activities, as well as talking with facilitators. Through this process, participants can gain a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them and experience a profound shift in their outlook on their spiritual life.
Alternative treatments such as acupuncture or yoga
Although Western medicine is the primary form of treatment for spiritual depression, there are other treatments that have been found to be beneficial. Acupuncture and yoga, in particular, have been shown to improve mental and emotional well-being by releasing endorphins (the body’s natural stress-relieving chemicals) and increasing circulation throughout the body. For more tips on achieving life balance, you can read our post on How to Find Life Balance in 10 Simple Steps.
In addition to physical benefits, these alternative treatments can also be helpful in providing a sense of peace and connection with the larger universe. Acupuncture is believed to help restore an individual’s energy balance by unblocking channels that are blocked or stagnant and creating harmony between yin (the negative) and yang (the positive). Similarly, yoga helps create balance through breathing techniques, meditation, and various physical postures. By focusing on the body and breathing, individuals can gain insight into their thoughts and feelings and create a greater sense of peace and well-being.
If you are considering a coach or a mentor to help you with the above, check out Business coach and mentor: what is the difference? for more on the topic.
Overall, spiritual depression can be a complex and multifaceted condition that is often misunderstood and overlooked. However, it is a real and serious form of depression that can have a significant impact on an individual's mental and emotional well-being, as well as their relationships and everyday life.
If you are experiencing symptoms of spiritual and clinical depression, it is important to seek help from a person in your church or religious community or a qualified mental health professional. With the right awareness, treatment, and support, it is possible to overcome being spiritually depressed and find joy, hope, and healing. Remember, you are not alone and there is help available.
If you believe anyone at work can benefit from the above, make sure to check out Building a better business: how to identify and correct negative workplace culture for great tips on how to have an impact.
Interested in learning more about why Google decided to fund Zella Life? Zella Life selected for Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund
About Julian Lewis
Julian Lewis is a driven and accomplished professional with a passion for driving positive change in the business world. He is the co-founder and COO at Zella Life.
His own experience as a professional of color in a Fortune 500 company led him to discover the limitations for advancement that many professionals like himself face. Determined to reach his full potential, Julian became an established business coach and entrepreneur, committed to supporting others in their pursuit of personal and professional growth.
Today, Julian is a recognized corporate trainer, coach, and leader, known for his ability to leverage real-life experiences and evidence-based methodologies to affect positive change within individuals and organizations. As the leader of Zella Life's coaching division, he is dedicated to empowering individuals and businesses to achieve their full potential.
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