Sunday, September 15, 2013

Depression and the Spirit

This morning in my study I came across language quoted me by a bishop with whom I had discussed the topic of depression in 1 Nephi 17:45, "and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel His words." While here the principle was applied to the wickedness of Laman and Lemuel, this loving bishop, a psychologist, said it also applied to those struggling with depression.  The voice of the Lord and His loving kindness as expressed through the peaceful feelings of the Spirit were being communicated, but the receptor was not working well enough to receive the signal.

I have thought much about this application. More than one of my loved ones struggle with the insipid affects of depression, also often accompanied by Spiritual darkness.  Although I have had rough hours, days, and even  months where I would describe my state as depressed, it is not in my natural disposition to be so. I am a happy, jubilant person.  Gratefully, I also generally have little problem feeling and following the Spirit. So were it not for my own brief walks in the dark, I would be unable to relate to my loved ones plagued by emotional and the accompanying spiritual darkness.

As I have tried to understand the relationship between depression and the Spirit's loss, there are some niggling questions: why when you need the presence of the Spirit most, would Heavenly Father not override the affects of depression?

In my ponderings, I have thought that perhaps in his perfect economy, God does not do for us what we can and should do for ourselves. We have science and nutrition and excercise to rebalance ourselves. We have the spiritual imperative not to run faster than we have strength. If we fail to live this commandment, we will, as God generally operates by natural laws unless we in faith request His intervention, feel the affects.

This scriptural principle of not running faster than we have strength serves to answer another question
Related to depression: why must we take a pill in order to feel the Spirit? By this scriptural principle, we can either slow down or increase our strength.  With regards to depression, we can do either or both to help ourselves out of our ruts. We can increase strength by exercising, by scripture study, by healthful eating (in another post I can discuss the relationship between sugar and gluten and depression). A short cut to doing some of that is taking medication.  So to resolve depression so the Spirit can be our constant companion, or so that we Might recognize  that He is so, we can exercise, eat better, increase spiritual activity, slow down, or take medication-or some combination. But with the advent of science or His respect for laws and our own wills, God will not circumvent this natural process unless there is sufficient faith and necessity to do well.

Anyway, these are simple Sunday musings on the topic. I have found little in Church literature on point. Most discuss depression as a result of sin, but often the depression precedes the sin or sin is not  in the equation at all.  Would love comments on your perspectives on the topic. Perhaps we can start to fill the void in gospel literature on the topic.


  1. That's very interesting! I enjoyed that. Questions abound...

    Could we apply this to other forms of mental illness? Not just depression? What about anxiety? Or bi-polar disorders? I really am curious.

    A person with a physical illness isn't necessarily m
    therefore past feeling from the Spirit. Why would people with mental illness (which is hereditary, in many cases; and in other cases is due to chemical imbalances and not due to anything in the sufferer's control)...why would mental illness cut you off from the Spirit? Usually only our choices can cause that.

    You're right, it sometimes does not involve sin at all, anymore than a physical ailment would. When someone gets the diagnosis of cancer, we don't say, "You pushed yourself too far. You ran faster than you have strength, and now you feel the affects." It is interesting to imagine that we would, however, say that to someone with schizophrenia.

    I'm very intrigued. I feel as though mental illness is highly misunderstood, even with our scientific advances and current efforts in spreading awareness. The stigmas and assumptions remain a real problem. I'm not saying you're guilty of that here, just that I seem to have more questions now than I did before. :) Thank you for making me think!

  2. Very interesting topic. Related to these questions, a couple of years ago I came across an interesting blog post about the mental health issues faced by George Albert Smith (and the real meat is in the terrific article cited and linked to in the blog post -- by BYU professor Mary Jane Woodger: "'Cheat the Asylum of a Victim': George Albert Smith's 1902-12 Breakdown", in the Journal of Mormon History).
    --Katie Lyon Dayton

  3. [Part 1]

    I normally don’t comment on blogs and I hope that you will not mind me making this comment, but after reading your post I thought I could offer some insight into this topic. It is just something that has been on my mind alot lately. In my life I have to deal with bipolar disorder, which means that I have times when I am severely depressed and others when I am what would be considered normal or even more energetic than normal. Thus I have experienced all parts of the spectrum. In all of this there are a few things that I have learned about depression, emotions, and feeling and recognizing not only the Spirit but also the influence of spirits in general.

    I have learned that even in the deepest parts of depression it is still possible to feel the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is a distinct feeling that can be felt through the cloud and pain of depression. It is something that is difficult to feel at times but it is something that can always be felt. One of the pernicious side effects of depression is the fact that many times the feelings of depression are indistinguishable from the feelings of sin or the loss of the Spirit. Thus it is very easy for someone who has depression to mistakenly assume that they are somehow more sinful than others and that they cannot access the healing power of the atonement or have access to the feelings of the Spirit.

    Perhaps the hardest part is learning to distinguish between the feelings of the Spirit and feelings that come from our body and feelings that come from our own spirits. The hard thing is learning to tell the difference between the Spirit telling me that I have done something wrong and that I need to repent, and experiencing a feeling of biological depression. Over time I have learned to recognize the sweet, peaceful feeling of the Spirit that permeates everything he does. It is a very distinct and personal feeling that when learned can be recognized very readily, just as the flavor of mint can easily be distinguished from the flavor of oranges. But at first it may be very hard to learn to discern the feelings of the Spirit from our own feelings or from the influences of other spirits.

    When I learned to recognize the feeling of the Holy Spirit it became a very personal thing, and I could recognize it as being distinct from all other feelings, much in the same way that we might recognize a brother or sister or good friend as distinct from all other people. If we are not familiar with the Spirit then the feelings he brings may be covered over by our own feelings, including the feelings of depression, much in the same way that we may pass a stranger in the street and not give them a second thought.

    Even in the depths of depression I can still feel the promptings and peace of the Holy Spirit, though it has taken me years to learn to tell the difference between my own feelings and the feelings he brings, and to tell the difference between his feelings and the feelings that other spirits bring.


  4. [Part 2]

    In many cases one of the problems of depression is that the person who is depressed does not only have to deal with their own feelings, but they may have to deal with feelings brought on by evil or malicious spirits. Not all episodes of depression are caused by the influence of evil spirits, and not all people who experience depression will ever have to deal with the influence of evil spirits, but it is something that I have had to deal with and it is something that requires the power of the priesthood to overcome. When it comes to depression there is perhaps something wrong in the connection between body and spirit, and that misconnection will occasionally induce those who cannot have bodies to try to exploit that opportunity to gain some influence or control over the body. Even a body that is broken and not working properly is preferable to none at all, even if they have little or no control over it.

    In these cases it requires someone who is very much in tune with things of the Spirit to exercise their priesthood power and to remove the influence of these evil spirits. These spirits can both cause and exacerbate the problems of depression. Like I said, not all people who have depression are being influenced by evil spirits, but some are and it takes the gift of discernment to recognize the presence of these spirits. A bishop has specifically been called to exercise the spirit of discernment so they should usually be the one to recognize and help out in this matter, but I have not always found that bishops were aware of this or even willing to attempt to help in this way. In these cases I have had to rely on inspired priesthood holders who were sufficiently in tune with the Spirit to recognize the problem and to help out. (If at this point you have in your mind some scene from the movie The Exorcist then you are understanding this all wrong. I am not talking about anything like that at all. The workings of the priesthood and of the Spirit are not creepy. They only provide peace, if not then something is wrong.)

    So the things that I have learned by experiencing depression are that I can still feel the Spirit, even if it is very difficult and it seems that I am “past feeling”. There can be something biologically wrong with my body that interferes with my feeling the Spirit, but even in the most extreme the Spirit can still speak to my spirit without a physical intermediary (i.e. my body) and thus can always be felt and heard. Every once in awhile it is not sin, nor a biological problem that creates or worsens my depression, but the influence of those who can never have bodies. In these cases prayer, a reliance on the Spirit, God and His priesthood can dispel these evil influences.

    So those are my thoughts. I hope you do not mind me sharing them on your blog, but I have been thinking about these things recently and felt like sharing them.

    PS: I have been reading your blog for a while, and also your Constitutionalisms blog. I find them very interesting. If I ever need someone to write a constitution for a new country I know who to call.

    PPS: The name I am posting under is not my real name. For this subject I have to be careful since there is still a strong stigma against having these issues. Tell someone you have cancer and they will organize the whole Relief Society to bake dinners till the end of time, but tell someone you have bipolar disorder and they go tell the bishop that they are not comfortable with you being their children’s Sunday School teacher.

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