Dr. Herbert Koenig is a psychiatrist and the Director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University. At a “Family, Faith and Mental Health Conference” held on November 17, 2011, in Atlanta, he made some rather dramatic statements about the role of religion in those who are depressed.
He said at the conference that religious involvement correlates with less depression and faster recovery
from depression in 272 of 444 quantitative studies (61%) on this broad topic – research conducted from 1872 to 2010. Only 6% of all studies indicated more depression from religious involvement. He cited published research documents that show a greater sense of well-being and happiness is evident for those involved with religion, as well as significantly greater meaning and purpose in life, greater hope, greater optimism, more forgiveness, more altruism/volunteering, and more gratitude, compassion, and kindness. His conclusion, “Practicing one’s faith may dramatically improve both health and quality of life.”
A question submitted to Dr. Koenig in a Q and A with www.beliefnet.com. “How should someone who is depressed, for example, decide between going to a psychiatrist and consulting a clergy person?”
“I think if they have mild symptoms, if they’re not losing weight, if they’re sleeping fairly well, if they’re upset over a stress and they’re physically not upset or stressed out, and they have this bad thing happen, the loss of a loved one or the loss of their job, I’d go see the pastor. If the person starts losing weight, has trouble sleeping at night, feels tired all the time, and begins to have any suicidal thoughts, it’s certainly time to go see the psychiatrist or a doctor.
“We have shown that it’s mainly the milder to moderate symptoms of depression that are responsive to religious intervention, and once people get really, really depressed, they can’t pray. They’re unable to get out of bed to go to church. They can’t concentrate. They’re afraid to read religious scriptures. When it gets to that point, you are actually unable to access those religious resources, and through medication or other biological means or even different types of psychotherapy, the person might then get well enough so that they can access those religious resources.”
I chose this study because it fits into my concept that all the entities of body, soul, and spirit need to be addressed for triumph over depression. It also fits into my experience that one has to become stable first to benefit from the healing powers of depression (that is, mild to moderate depression). When I reached the stage of being really, really depressed, as Dr. Koenig suggests above, I could not pray nor could I go to church. I also did not want to read Scripture, except for the Psalms (they are a balm for the soul). There was one prayer, however, that I could pray in deepest depression, “God, have mercy on me, God have compassion on me. Help me out of this terrible, terrible depression.” And in His timing, he did that very thing. I’d be interested in hearing your comments on this posting.