**Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of blog posts addressing mental health issues by Dr. Frank Moncher, a clinical psychologist with Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington. We hope that this can help educate you on the circumstances behind mental illness and suicide, and begin that dialogue within the context of the Catholic community.
By: Dr. Frank Moncher
As explored last week, one’s choices and attitudes toward hardships in life are important to consider in understanding depression and suicide. Still, it would be erroneous to deny the reality of the impact of brain chemistry in the development of depression and related suicide risk and prevention. Some studies suggest that there are biochemical differences in the brain among those who commit suicide, though these may be either the cause or the consequence of depression.
Still, for those suffering from clinical depression, medication along with psychotherapy are the best standards of medical practice. Research demonstrates that some people suffering from depression can benefit from a variety of anti-depressant medications that are available through psychiatrists or, at times, one’s family doctor. Other people benefit from differing forms of counseling and psychotherapy, while some require both. Taking medication alone rarely does the entire job, while the suggestions given by well-meaning friends or family that “pushing through it” or “getting over it” will carry the day are erroneous and, for many, unrealistic options. Yet, there is also truth to the understanding that depression is, in the words of one controversial blogger: “deeper and more profound than a simple matter of disproportioned brain chemicals…” which brings us to prayer.
Popular media largely covers the natural level aspect of depression and suicide, but often neglects the spiritual aspect. Some religious commentators have provided helpful catechesis, but conversely neglects the natural realities of depression. Suicide and depression, I believe, are issues for which neither the natural nor the supernatural aspects are peripheral. These issues are about life and its meaning. Persons of faith go through periods of dryness and feeling detached from God, but clinical depression is different. As a clinician, I am always relieved to hear a depressed client state their adamant opposition to suicide as an option because of their faith beliefs. At times, this is a good enough place to start. Better, of course, when there is recognition that God’s love is at the center. But, for a depressed person, relationships with visible beings can be difficult enough, let alone one with God.
Yet, this is where people of faith do seem to have an upper hand. In responding to a controversial blog on the topic by Matt Walsh, novelist Daniel McInerny sums up nicely the Christian position on suffering: “I’m not saying that taking this supernatural outlook will cure depression, or that the depressed person should not pursue every available human means of healing. I’m saying that only in the Cross does suffering make ultimate sense. Only in the Cross do we find a lasting hope. Our task as Christians is to bring this message of hope to the world, both through advocating appropriate human means of healing, and by spreading the Good News that depression and other evils never have the final word.”
“We do not believe in a Mental Prosperity Gospel, where God rewards His faithful ones with a sense of well-being and good cheer. A good many of the saints were as close to God as they could come — Mother Teresa comes to mind — and yet they struggled constantly against the darkness. Depression and mental illness are not a sign of personal sin, but one of many signs of the weakness we all inherited when Adam sinned.” -popular blogger, Simcha Fisher
Again, prayer is always appropriate, and is always our duty. Prayer provides not only for the mysterious influence that is Grace, but also can serve as a concrete reminder to the person suffering that their friends and family remain connected and are pleading for their healing.
In his next blog post of this Mental Health series, Dr. Moncher will discuss the need for belonging we have, how easily it is to become isolated in the modern world, and what we can do to help those suffering from depression.
Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.