Dealing With Depression: Getting the Right Kind of Help Matters

The news of Robin Williams’ suicide has brought the insidious nature of depression front and center.  

I know too many Christians who believe that they should be immune from depression because they are Christian.   While research shows that some believers can be more resistant to depression and have a somewhat easier time bouncing back when they do get depression, it is also true that some approaches to religion can be associated with higher rates of depression and emotional problems.  When evaluating the power of belief to protect against emotional problems, the research seems to show that the question isn’t “do you believe?”  but rather what do you believe, how, and why?

The bottom line is that, by and large,  Christians experience depression at rates that are similar to the general population.  Twenty-Six percent of adults in the US have depression.  The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of disability after heart disease.

Does Treatment Work?

The good news is that depression is very treatable.  Sadly, many comments I am reading on the internet seem to suggest that seeking help must be pointless because if Robin Williams, who arguably had every resource in the world available to him, couldn’t get adequate care who can?  First, we don’t know all the details of Robin Williams situations and we never will.  Secondly, what we do know points to a much more complicated clinical picture than what most people experience.  Robin Williams’ history was not with depression but with Bi-Polar Disorder, which can be characterized by dramatic mood swings and is somewhat more difficult to treat than depression.  This, combined with his long struggle with substance abuse and the unique pressure a person in his position faces,  should remind everyone to resist the temptation to draw broader conclusions about the effectiveness of depression treatment based on the tragic outcome of William’s particular story.

What’s the Best Treatment?

As I mentioned, depression is very treatable.  80% of people who seek help report that they experience significant or even total relief from their depressive symptoms.  That’s a tremendous success rate.

What is the best treatment for depression?  Studies of evidenced-based approaches to treatment show that psychotherapy alone should be the primary method of treatment.  This approach has the highest success rate, the longest-term recovery rates,  the lowest negative effects and the lowest drop-out rate.  For patients who need additional support, adding medication to psychotherapy is the best approach.

Interestingly, despite what all the TV commercials tell you, research seems to show that the least effective approach is medication alone because of the relatively lower rate of effectiveness (about 50%), lower rate of symptom relief (about 30%), higher side-effect profile, greater likelihood of post-treatment relapse, and greater treatment drop-out rate.  Bottom line?  If you have been diagnosed with depression and are not in ongoing psychotherapy, you are not undergoing the best course of treatment. Period.

How Do You Know If It’s Time to Seek Help?

Everyone experiences sadness, but its important not to dismiss depression as mere sadness.  If you are experiencing a period of sustained sadness that lasts for at least 2 weeks and is accompanied by any of the following: a change in eating habits (either eating more or less), sleeping habits (either more or less), withdrawing from social engagements, decreased enjoyment of previously enjoyable activities, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or especially, thoughts of dying, death, or harming oneself, it’s time to seek help.

How Do We Cope?

Our ability to resist depression or recover efficiently from it tends to depend a great deal on the coping strategies we use to deal with stress in general.  In my next post, I’ll look at healthy versus unhealthy coping styles and offer specific suggestions for coping more effectively with all the challenges in your life.  For now, just know that if you or a loved one is struggling with feelings of sadness or despair that you think might be depression,  getting help early is key.  If you aren’t sure if it’s depression, that’s a good enough reason to get an evaluation (i.e., If you have to ask…). Talk to your doctor or contact a licensed psychotherapist who can help you clarify the nature of the problem you are facing and the best means of resolving it.  Getting help early is the best way to increase both the likelihood of a full recovery and your ability to experience the life God has given you as the gift that it is–even when that gift gets complicated.

For more information on faithful approaches to treating depression and other emotional problems, check out the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-Counseling Practice by visiting us online or calling 740-266-6461 to make an appointment to speak with a professional Catholic counselor.  Let us help you integrate the wisdom of our faith with contemporary insights from counseling psychology to help you develop the most comprehensive response to the challenges in your life.



Inconsistent Home Life/Common Family Problems May Increase Risk of Brain Disorders by Up To 60%

Because parents don’t have enough to worry about, two new studies point to the impact of a child’s home life on brain development.

The first study looks at how common family problems like lack of affection, poor communication, parental arguments and the like actually resulted in children developing a smaller cerebellum than children who did not experience the same type of common family problems.

The study led by Dr Nicholas Walsh, lecturer in developmental psychology at the University of East Anglia (UEA), used brain imaging technology to scan teenagers aged 17-19. It found that those who experienced mild to moderate family difficulties between birth and 11 years of age had developed a smaller cerebellum, an area of the brain associated with skill learning, stress regulation and sensory-motor control. The researchers also suggest that a smaller cerebellum may be a risk indicator of psychiatric disease later in life as it is consistently found to be smaller in virtually all psychiatric illnesses.

Previous studies have focused on the effects of severe neglect, abuse and maltreatment in childhood on brain development. However the aim of this research was to determine the impact, in currently healthy teenagers, of exposure to more common but relatively chronic forms of ‘family-focused’ problems. These could include significant arguments or tension between parents, physical or emotional abuse, lack of affection or communication between family members, and events which had a practical impact on daily family life and might have resulted in health, housing or school problems.

“We show that exposure in childhood and early adolescence to even mild to moderate family difficulties, not just severe forms of abuse, neglect and maltreatment, may affect the developing adolescent brain. We also argue that a smaller cerebellum may be an indicator of mental health issues later on. Reducing exposure to adverse social environments during early life may enhance typical brain development and reduce subsequent mental health risks in adult life.  READ MORE.

This study could go a long way to explaining the significantly higher rates of ADHD, childhood depression, anxiety,  and other emotional problems in the last 20 years.

The second study is even more shocking.  It shows that frequent school moves increase a child’s risk of adolescent psychosis by up to 60%.

“Changing schools can be very stressful for students. Our study found that the process of moving schools may itself increase the risk of psychotic symptoms — independent of other factors. But additionally, being involved in bullying, sometimes as a consequence of repeated school moves, may exacerbate risk for the individual.”  At the age of 12, participants in the study were interviewed to assess for the presence of psychotic-like symptoms including hallucinations, delusions and thought interference in the previous six months. Those that had moved school three or more times were found to be 60% more likely to display at least one definite psychotic symptom.  READ MORE

What’s the takeaway?  That being a consistent, extravagantly affectionate, radically attached parent who works hard on your marriage is the best way to give your child everything he or she needs to be mentally and emotionally healthy, not just from a psychological perspective but from a neurophysiological perspective as well!

For more information on how you can give your child every emotional and psychological advantage in life, check out Parenting with Grace:  A Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids (2nd ed rev.) and Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids today!

Double-Blind Study Shows Lavender Oil Capsules As Effective as Lorazepam (Ativan) for Treating Anxiety

This is fascinating.  In doing some research for a client with generalized anxiety disorder, I found this double-blind, placebo-control study on the effectiveness of lavender oil capsules (silexan) for treating anxiety.  Remarkably, the study appears to show that the lavender oil capsules were as effective as lorazepam (Ativan) AND it had no side effects or potential for abuse.  Additionally,  participants experienced relief from their anxiety without any drowsiness.  Here is an excerpt from the conclusion section of the study.

In conclusion, our results demonstrate that silexan is as effective as lorazepam in adults with GAD. The safety of silexan was also demonstrated. Since lavender oil showed no sedative effects in our study and has no potential for drug abuse, silexan appears to be an effective and well tolerated alternative to benzodiazepines for amelioration of generalised anxiety.  Read the abstract and the link to the original study at PubMed here.

At the Pastoral Solutions Institute, we’re committed to helping Catholics find effective, faith-filled, solutions to life’s difficult questions.  If you  or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, I invite you to learn more about our Catholic tele-counseling practice by clicking this link or calling 740-266-6461.  Let us help you find graceful ways to respond to the challenges you face in your life and relationships.

NY State Bishops Pen Pastoral Letter on Mental Illness.

Praise God for this incredibly important step toward better pastoral care for all Catholics–and all people–with mental illness. It’s very brief but completely worth the read.  I hope you’ll take a moment to look it over and then meet back here to discuss it.  My thanks to Deacon Greg for alerting us all to the exciting things happening in his neck of the woods. Here’s a sample….

Our society has made great strides in our understanding and treatment of mental illness. But in many cases the labels and fears remain, continuing to influence public policies related to how people access the services they need to reach their full potential in society. For example, our society continues to assume mentally ill individuals are prone to violence, either directed against themselves or others. Yet, fewer than 5 percent of violent acts are committed by people with serious mental illness. Persons with mental illness are more often victims than perpetrators of violent acts, and they also are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse.

While a small percentage of individuals with very severe and untreated mental illness may be at an elevated risk of violence, especially when substance abuse is involved, this risk diminishes significantly with medication and treatment. Still, fear of violence and the unspeakably tragic examples of mass shooting by untreated mentally individuals perpetuate a stigma that threatens public support for continued movement toward a community-based model of treatment.  READ IT ALL HERE.


Study Says,Casual Sex Can Cause Depression

“There’s always been a question about which one is the cause  and which is the effect.  This study  provides evidence that poor mental health can lead to casual sex, but also that  casual sex leads to additional declines in mental health.” Sandberg-Thoma conducted the study with Claire Kamp Dush,  assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State.  The research was published online recently in  the Journal of Sex Research and will  appear in a future print edition. One surprising finding was that the link between casual sex  and mental health was the same for both men and women.   “That was unexpected because there is still this sexual  double standard in society that says it is OK for men to have casual sexual  relationships, but it is not OK for women,” Kamp Dush said.   “But these results suggest that poor mental health and casual  sex are linked, whether you’re a man or a woman.”  Read More

I need to give a hat tip to Elizabeth Scalia for pointing my attention to this piece.

You’ll recall I asserted this exact same thing in my interview with drive time shock jock Tracy Jones on WKRP WLW  in Cincinnati several months ago.  The researchers seem mystified as to why it is that casual sex causes depression and why this is true for both women and men.

The Christians reading this will probably be face-palming right about now because we accept these facts–for the most part anyway (I think the male casual sex/depression link would surprise a lot of my Christian friends infected with the secular culture’s double standard about men)–as biblical truths.  But we have to do a better job of explaining why casual sex is wrong beyond just saying “Jesus said, NO!”  (as if he was “Grumpy Cat” or something)

As I assert in my book Holy Sex!  the brain is wired to view sex as a sign of intimacy and unity.  In fact, the brain responds to break-ups the same way it responds to physical pain.  When two people make love, their brains begin to think of the other as part of each self.  The lovers literally become wired together.  When they break-up, the brain responds to the social wound as if the lovers experienced a physical wound; a broken arm or a broken leg.  Now imagine intentionally setting yourself up to get physically wounded again and again.  You would call that person “mentally ill” right?  Well, that’s what casual sex is–setting your brain up to be wounded again and again.   And setting oneself up to get hurt again and again–especially in the name of fun–is a depressing thought.

Sex is a powerful drug.  In particular, it is a drug that literally bonds two people together–not just metaphysically, but neurologically.   The brain can’t tell the difference between a one night stand and an LTR.  It just knows that it is being bombarded by chemicals that make it start to bond with another person and think of that person as part of oneself.  Losing a part of yourself is depressing.  The brain processes a break-up after sex like it would process an amputation and, to respond to the other question the study asked, the reason that causal sex negatively affects both women and men is because male and female brains are more alike than they are different.  Yes, there are differences between the sexes, but those differences tend to be more qualitative than structural. It isn’t as if women have entire swaths of brain territory that men don’t.  It’s just that some areas of the female brain light up a little differently than other parts.  But both men and women have all the parts of the brain that make them human beings, and the bonding process is a basic human response.    The mental health of both men and women is negatively affected by casual sex because we weren’t physically made to do it, and acting in a manner that is contrary to our design causes us to feel broken down and depressed.

The good news is that the flipside is also true.  People who have fewer sexual partners (for instance, one) and who remain faithful to that partner are happier, and both mentally and physically healthier than people with more sexual partners.

If you’d like to learn more about having a healthy, joyful, life-long love, or how to effectively articulate the truth of the Catholic vision of love, check out Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.


Is Atheism A Mental Illness?

Sean Thomas at the London Telegraph seems to think so….

Thanks to a couple of surveys, it’s being put about in certain circles that atheists have higher IQs than believers. That may or may not be the case, but…Let’s dispense with the crude metric of IQ and look at the actual lives led by atheists, and believers, and see how they measure up. In other words: let’s see who is living more intelligently.

And guess what: it’s the believers. A vast body of research, amassed over recent decades, shows that religious belief is physically and psychologically beneficial – to a remarkable degree.

In 2004, scholars at UCLA revealed that college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health. In 2006, population researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the more often you go to church, the longer you live. In the same year researchers at Duke University in America discovered that religious people have stronger immune systems than the irreligious. They also established that churchgoers have lower blood pressure.

Meanwhile in 2009 a team of Harvard psychologists discovered that believers who checked into hospital with broken hips reported less depression, had shorter hospital stays, and could hobble further when they left hospital – as compared to their similarly crippled but heathen fellow-sufferers.

The list goes on. In the last few years scientists have revealed that believers, compared to non-believers, have better outcomes from breast cancer, coronary disease, mental illness, Aids, and rheumatoid arthritis. Believers even get better results from IVF. Likewise, believers also report greater levels of happiness, are less likely to commit suicide, and cope with stressful events much better. Believers also have more kids.

What’s more, these benefits are visible even if you adjust for the fact that believers are less likely to smoke, drink or take drugs. And let’s not forget that religious people are nicer. They certainly give more money to charity than atheists, who are, according to the very latest survey, the meanest of all.

So which is the smart party, here? Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)? Or is it the believers, who live longer, happier, healthier, more generous lives, and who have more kids, and who go to their quietus with ritual dignity, expecting to be greeted by a smiling and benevolent God?

Obviously, it’s the believers who are smarter. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mentally ill.  MORE


What is “Mental illness”  — Does Atheism Fit?

There is a lot to this.  Part of the problem, of course, is that there is no generally accepted definition of the terms “mental health” or “mental illness.”  Readers might be surprised to learn that most therapists can complete their training and not once have a meaningful discussion in class about what mental health or mental illness actually is.  We learn categories of illness and symptom checklists, but there is no generally accepted understanding of what actually constitutes a mental illness in the first place.  In order for Thomas’ assertion to be more than a slur against atheists, we need to look at what mental illness could actually be defined as.

Psychiatrist and brain researcher,  Dr. Daniel Siegel, argues that mental health represents the degree of integration within and between the mind, the body and our relationships.   He further argues that mental illness can be described as the falling out of  this state of integration and lapsing into a relative state of increased rigidity, chaos or both.  These are probably the best definitions of these terms I’ve ever encountered.

Seen in this light, I think there is a case to be made that atheism could be a mental illness.  There are many more studies like Sean Thomas points to that strongly suggest that religious believers have significantly better integration with regard to health, mental health, relationship satisfaction, and pro-social behavior.  We also know that there is strong comorbidity between atheism and high functioning autism.  In general, while the occurrence of agnosticism or personalized spiritualities is quite high, the incidence of atheism stands at 1-5% in the general population, which is consistent with other mental disorders.

Can Belief Systems Be Disorders?

It isn’t enough to say that, because atheism is a belief system it should be exempt from being considered a mental illness.  The belief that one is Napoleon is clearly evidence that something  is not right.  Also, I’m not picking on atheists, I would argue that any belief system that significantly inhibited the integration between or within one’s mind, body, and relationships was representative of, if not outright mental illness, than at least poorer mental health.  And, in fact, there are types of religiousness (aka, “extrinsic religiosity” which tends to be characterized, not by internal conversion, but rule-bound judgmentalism and angry tribalism) that have been shown by a great deal of research to be associated with poor mental health.

So, seen from this perspective, considering the relatively lower rates of mental, physical and social well-being enjoyed by atheists, it really isn’t unreasonable or inappropriate to ask if atheism either is a mental illness itself or is a contributor to poor mental well-being.


Catholics and Mental Illness (An Ongoing Series): Michelle–A Woman with Depression Suffers Alienation in the Church

St. Dymphna, Patroness of the Mentally Ill, Pray for Us.

A new post in our “What’s Your Experience?” Series,  in which People-of-Faith share their experience of depression, anxiety, and other mental illness as they relate to their parish and their Catholic faith.  Today, Michelle writes of her experience with crippling depression.

Dr. Greg,  I was amazed when I came across a link for your article on Facebook because I have spent the past few days wondering about “What is my place in the Church?” as a mentally ill Catholic.

I have been thinking a lot about my mental illness lately. I used to be mentally healthy but then I joined the military where I suffered repeated sexual harassment and assault, as well as the expected traumas of serving in a war zone. I left the military and was given a 100% disability rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs for PTSD, Major Depression Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. So as far as I know I was not born with a chemical imbalance but instead my mental illness is the result of trauma.

I left the US Navy in 1996 and was given my disability rating in 1998. I have suffered for 15 years with crippling depression and also with oftentimes relentless panic attacks and severe bouts of paranoia/agoraphobia. In short, I can be ok to a certain degree or I can be a total human wreck. But no matter what, I am “weird” and this is not lost on basically anyone that is either my friend or is in my company for whatever reason.

Lately I have been having very serious thoughts about myself. I wonder how much of my depression is the result of what I call “negative narcissism” on my part: being so self-centered that I am shocked and driven to a huge “poor me, life sucks” reaction when life is stressful, life is challenging, and/or things don’t go my way.

I also wonder how much of my mental illness is self-fulfilling prophecy, due to being told that I am mentally ill to the point that I no longer trust my ability to “handle stress.” In other words, at the first real sign of stress I run away, disconnecting and dissociating by abandoning my daily life and tasks and hiding in bed, hiding behind the Internet (distracting myself) and taking off for a walk with my iPod while abandoning my duties.

These personal musings have come about after these past two or three years spent moving deeper and deeper into the Catholic Faith. To my shock I feel that I have discovered something incredible, and possibly something that will prove to be the key to serious improvements in my mental health: modern psychology offers me exactly what the Faith and the Bible have taught all along. Not only that, but the Faith and Bible offer *even more*.

So at the present moment I find myself deeply questioning my own reactions to stress. I find myself comparing my  thoughts and feelings, my behaviors and my reactions against what the Faith teaches is the Christian way of life. I must admit that I find myself seriously lacking in many areas – and I am not saying this with self hate or scruples. I am seeking instead the truth, because although painful to my pride, the truth just might set me free. I doubt that my PTSD can ever be fully cured, but I am beginning to wonder if my depression and the emotional hyper-sensitivity of Borderline Personality Disorder are more the results of a life centered around Me and not Christ. I hope and pray that God will provide me with the tools (and people?) that I need to dig deeply into this idea.

Sadly I have found that the vast majority of those in the Church react to my “weirdness” with the same lack of compassion and understanding as those in the secular world. Sometimes even to the point of cruelty and aggressively destroying me socially via gossip: meaning that some people that get to know me within the Church will actually go out of their way to telephone and visit other people in order to gossip about me and ruin my reputation to the point of me being ostracized by church members, family, and many in the local community. Being socially destroyed by fellow Catholics is shocking to say the least. I am a convert, becoming Catholic in 1998. I did not expect to find the same injustices from fellow Catholics that one practically expects from those that reject Christ.

As for the rest of my fellow Catholics I am mostly met with inertia. In the moments when I am suffering the most there is an obvious need but no one is interested. They’d rather watch TV and they don’t want to be bothered with making the effort to connect and communicate, pray, etc.

I will do my best to answer your questions:

Was your pastor supportive?  

No, I have never encountered a fully supportive pastor. I think some of the problem is some are not interested, others dismiss mental illness, they find you annoying and a drain. Perhaps another part of the problem is that some pastors understand the “negative narcissism” I mention above and they expect that you will “get it” a lot faster then you actually do.

Were the people in your parish or bible study or women’s group understanding?  

Anything but. Even amongst fellow Catholics there is a Status Quo. If you are not able to engage in full time employment, your house is a wreck, you can’t drive, or any other “failing” due to the usual disruptions to life brought about by mental illness these are held against you. And this Status Quo extends even to your personal appearance: weight, style of clothes, ethnicity ~ add to that any cultural differences and it gets even more impossible to meet expectations. Being mentally ill, especially when you find yourself in the midst of a time of real mental struggle, helps you to fail to meet the expectations of the Status Quo. Oftentimes this Status Quo mimics that of the secular world, with its shallow judgmentalism and lack of compassion and patience and the desire to “get something in return” from any given relationship. No one can escape the fact that when you are in the midst of a mental crisis you take a LOT and give very little. It requires a seriously Christ-like heart to continue to love and support a mentally ill person during their particularly dark moments. 

Overall, how good a job has the Church done of attending to your needs? 

Awful. I have found, after being a member of multiple parishes across the USA and overseas, that if you are mentally ill you end up on your own. Your pastors are always “too busy” helping other people. Your fellow Catholics have a tendency to either outright reject you, or basically ignore you and leave you wallowing in the fallout caused by episodes of mental crisis. On the other hand Protestants are AMAZING. They not only love you and support you even at your worst, they are so Christlike in their lack of judgement and in their service. Christ washed the feet of His disciples, Protestants scrub your toilet and cook your meals and help you to remember to bathe and assist you with keeping up with daily tasks while you are at your absolute worst. Protestants will pray with you, read the bible with you (even when all you can do is sit there, stinking, hair wild, eyes glazed, and listen) and will take you to-and-from their homes, their churches, anything that is needed. By contrast your fellow Catholics don’t even pick up the phone and give you a call. I feel that the majority of my fellow Catholics react more like Secular people that don’t know Christ: as soon as you are an inconvenience, a burden, they abandon you. Even the Priests fail to call you or visit you or minister to you, and they do nothing to ask the parish to reach out to you. Holy Mother Church herself… I’ve never been offered any kind of pastoral mental health help in any form ever. This abandonment by the Church is something that I am struggling to come to terms with so that I can stop allowing this rejection and abandonment to throw me into a poor-me party. Far more then once I have been severely tempted to abandon the Church and join a Protestant church instead. 

I hope this helps! I have to go now, time to do something productive. I am testing my “how much is my depression  actually self-fulfillment” by trying to force myself to do at least one daily task from beginning to end. Have I become lazy due to self-fulfilling prophecy? Or am I truly incapacitated when a depression wave hits?

God bless!!  ~Michelle

Do you have a story of a struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional illness?  What has your experience in the Church been like?   Share your story to help others.  I promise anonymity.  Please email me at

Catholics and Mental Illness (An Ongoing Series)– W. A Woman with Anxiety/Intermittent Explosive Disorder

A new post in our What’s Your Experience?  Series,  in which People-of-Faith share their experience of depression, anxiety, and other mental illness as they relate to their parish and their Catholic faith.  W.  a young woman in her 20’s writes of her experience with a disorder that leads to overwhelming and violent bouts of anxiety and anger.

I’m a young adult, in my early 20s. It was only in college that major emotional wounds inflicted by my father manifested in what certain Catholic psychologists term “frustration neurosis” — a condition in which emotions aren’t repressed but certain emotions are rather totally underdeveloped. An adult suffering from frustration neurosis may react like a child under conditions in which a healthy emotional palette would take completely in stride. It was even more complex for me because I understood so well — too well, perhaps — that my reactions were totally contrary to what they ought to be, and so my frustration manifested themselves in overpowering hysterical “episodes” that were the only medium by which the energy that built up from the stilted emotional growth and my desire for completeness rubbed against each other. These episodes were terrifying — brutal, animalistic, violent, and totally unexpected.
The Lord drew me after Him through the entire process. I consider it a stage of deep purification, for not a single person understood what was going on interiorly until I stumbled — quite providentially, of course — into the path of a spiritual director who understood the ways in the Lord was working on my soul and heart by means of my past and my emotional being. It was very humiliating, very frustrating — and continues to be, to some extent, as this healing takes time, and there are still manifestations. (The particular extremity of my experiences, sometimes relatively public, were totally foreign to my chaplains and those at my university’s ministry. They could only surmise that it was X or Y, depression, for example, but not a single person was able to see everything, understand everything, etc. And the one thing I would say to those souls is that for an individual in my situation what is needed is heroic support — 100x more than they might imagine is necessary. At its worst moments, these kinds of mental illnesses might very literally feel like the end of the world, a black hole, during which faith and hope and charity are strongly tested.)


I think that persons in situations like mine — be it the condition, or the sense of total darkness and desperation that overwhelms them — should remember a few things: The Lord is present always; even Christ, who offered His Spirit into the hands of His Father, did it in anguished darkness. We must offer everything into His Hands and the the hands of His Mama. We must consider this an opportunity for great purification and for an opportunity to imitate Our Lord; there is no greater grace than to understand the passion from within. More practically, I think we must fight to find the right counselor. The counseling world is large, complex, and can be deeply imperfect. I was diagnosed in a multitude of different ways, with many recommendations, and having really no idea what was happening, I did the only thing I could — I laid it out before God, I prayed my fiat, and I waited. It took much humiliation, much frustration, many dark nights before I found the right therapist (and I do think something, somewhere, needs to click to make the arrangement right), but I can say with deep thanks now that I wouldn’t change a thing: I love the Lord with a much purer faith and hope now, and by the time I found this therapist, I didn’t know how to keep anything back. I was in a state of total nakedness and poverty, desperate for healing and clarity, and in the midst of this painful faithfulness, the Lord granted me light.

 Blessings,  W

Do you have a story of a struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional illness?  What has your experience in the Church been like?   Share your story to help others.  I promise anonymity.  Please email me at

Catholics and Mental Illness (An Ongoing Series)–Spouse of Man with Bipolar I Disorder

A new post in our What’s Your Experience?  Series,  in which People-of-Faith share their experience of depression, anxiety, and other mental illness as they relate to their parish and their Catholic faith.  In this post, Kate, the wife of a man with Bipolar I shares her experience with how priests, the Church, and her faith have been intertwined in the drama of her life.

My DH has been diagnosed in the past year with Bipolar I.  He is 42 years old and a cradle Catholic.  I am 39 and a convert to the Faith.  We have seven children that are homeschooled.  

 My husband’s first mental break occurred when he was an undergrad at Franciscan University in the early 90’s.  He relates the story that he was in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, alone, begging God for help.  A priest entered the chapel at the sounds of his pleas.  My husband begged him for help as well, anguished.  The priest called 911 and he was hospitalized for a week.  He then graduated and moved on, but he still talks about that day and that he wishes the priest would have just prayed with him.  

 Several years later, he was able to join the Army.  We met and married shortly after that.  We had many years of ups and downs along with infidelity.  We were married for 6 years when he sought help and was diagnosed with severe depression and put on a combination of Zoloft and Wellbutrin.  For several years, this was adequate to maintain him.  Through all this, he was able to earn two Master’s degrees and become an officer in the Army.  In February of 2012, things took a turn for the worse.  He was suicidal and homicidal.  His medicines were changed to include depakote and  Celexa, but he only spiraled further out of control.  He was hospitalized.  They continued the same drug regimen and he was sedated and restrained almost daily for the first week until they changed the meds to include Lamictal, naltrexone and Seroquel.  Through the help of a few close church friends and one priest, I was able to conceal this hospitalization from everyone, including the children.  After three and a half weeks, he was discharged on Good Friday.  From there, everything changed.  After a year long process, he was medically retired from the Army two weeks ago.  He still cycles, but not to the extremes as before.  I am hopeful that with medication, therapy and time, he will become more stable. 

 We have a lot of help from a few friends and our priest (who has since deployed overseas), but we are both embarrassed and feel the stigma of mental illness.  One of our fellow parishioners discovered his diagnosis and posted on Facebook a long discussion on how we shouldn’t ‘hide’ behind a diagnosis and he should just change.  Our priest, who was new to our parish, was aware and said nothing.

 Through it all, he remains faithful.  He remains hopeful that God will assist him.  Praying the Litany of the Hours gives him a schedule that he finds calming.  Even with the hectic life raising children, we try to at least say Evening Prayers together before bed.  I find solace in turning to the intercession of St Dympna and Our Blessed Mother.


The most difficult thing for me, as a woman of Faith, is my husband’s role as the head of our home.  When he cycles into mania or depression, I have to find the balance of taking care of things that he can’t without taking away from his role, and maintaining his authority with the children.  I consider myself a strong woman, but discovering myself over the years as a submissive wife and honoring my place in our covenant has been so rewarding.  That being said, I am trying to gracefully maintain the order of our home without the detriment to my DH.  How does one stay true to the vow to honor and obey when their spouse is in full blown mania?  

The Church, as all of society, has a long way to go in dealing with mental illness.  I don’t know what I expect or what should be done.  I do know that we should be able to sit in the pews on Sunday without feeling looked down upon or have our ideas/efforts dismissed because he is bipolar.  Priests have many responsibilities handed to them.  I think it is easier to deal with the visible problems because mental illness can be so hard to identify.  I am hoping and praying that now that we are done with military life, we will find employment and return to OH, where we have friends, relatives and priests that know us well and can give us support that we need.

 I look forward to looking into your readings on mental illness and continuing the discussion.  I just thought you might like to hear from someone like me.

 Blessings,  Kate

Do you have a story of a struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional illness?  What has your experience in the Church been like?   Share your story to help others.  I promise anonymity.  Please email me at

Catholics and Mental Illness–What’s Your Experience? (An ongoing series)

A new post in our What’s Your Experience?  Series,  in which People-of-Faith share their experience of depression, anxiety, and other mental illness as they relate to their parish and their Catholic faith…

St. Dymphna, Patroness of those with mental illness,   Pray for Us.

Dear Dr. Greg,

I’m writing in response to your series entitled “Catholics & Depression, Anxiety, & Mental/Emotional Illness. What is Your Experience?”


As a Catholic Christian woman who has struggled to cope with mental and emotional illness for nearly 25 years, I am grateful for the time, energy, and expertise you shar

e through your blog Faith on the Couch.  Your ministry to those of us who exist on the emotional and psychological margins of society is, as I see it, a brilliant example of obedience to Pope Francis’ recent teachings.



It would be easy for me to go into great detail about my story, the journey I’ve been on for so long, but I am not sure if most of it would have any relevance to your questions. Having said that, I will try to summarize my history into bullet points of the kind of treatments I have undergone/sought for the major depression and anxiety disorder I have been diagnosed with:

  • Drugs – tricyclics in      the early 90s, then when those didn’t work, MAOIs. Trials of almost all the SSRIs. Currently I take Wellbutrin 150mg daily, and have for a number of years gotten varying degrees of relief. Lorazepam as needed for anxiety, which happens to be about every third or fourth day.
  • ECT – during the mid to late 90s I had (to the best of my recollection) several regimens of ECT.      As evidence by the fact that I am writing to you 15 years later, they      worked.
  • Hospitalization – both inpatient and outpatient partial hospitalization during the worst of the illness in the 90s.
  • Psychotherapy – currently I see a (Christian, but not Catholic) psychiatrist every other week for an hour of therapy, which at this point consists of me talking to her about whatever issue is causing me the most emotional turmoil in my life at the moment. We spend a lot of time challenging my thought processes.  I met this young doctor when she was just beginning her practice and have been with her for 8 years now. 
  • Seeking help in the Church – most of the help I have sought has been in the form of the  Sacrament of Confession. There was a newly ordained priest assigned to my      parish several years ago, with whom I had spoken outside the confessional  a number of times. At first my visits were of some benefit, but when he got transferred to another parish it was more difficult to get an appointment with him. Then his willingness to see me in person evolved into a brief phone call. Recently transferred again (typical diocesan activity with our young priests) and due to his ever-increasingly-busy  schedule, I no longer feel he has time to help me. I currently have no      priest with whom I can discuss the spiritual aspects of this illness.  Several times over the years I have requested and received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. It would have been good to hear a priest voluntarily suggest it, but the fact is that I requested it every time. I was left with the impression that I just wasn’t “sick      enough to qualify”.
  • To combat my strong tendency to isolate myself when I am feeling particularly depressed, a year ago I  joined a prayer group at my church. This group of 15 women meets every other week to study St. Faustina’s book Divine Mercy in My Soul and to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.       There are a few women in the group who are supportive, but my  deeply-seated difficulty trusting others has caused me to withdraw from  regular attendance.  My emotional meltdowns are unpredictable   and embarrassing, and the group setting causes me discomfort. 
  • I have come to the  conclusion that, for me,  it is far too easy to place unreasonably high expectations upon people in the Church. It has been rare for  someone, priest or laity, to do or say something that effects  a permanent healing of my body, mind, and spirit. I  recognize that the fact that I am writing to you means that I have not      completely given up hope in some kind of healing from God through His  people, the Church. I beg your prayers.
  • The most helpful books I   have ever read were written by the late Conrad Baars, MD and his daughter. Born Only Once struck me to my very core and has a permanent place in my library.  Feeling and Healing Your Emotions provided the comfort of a meaningful explanation of the emotional wounds that have probably      been a part of me since childhood.
  • I have one Catholic  

    female friend who I can occasionally call upon for support and encouragement. She is the mother of six children and one grandchild and so      I try not to lean on her heavily, because she is quite busy.

Again, I am grateful to you for existence of your blog that I can turn to for support. Thank you for listening to me.

Do you have a story of a struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional illness?  What has your experience in the Church been like?   Share your story to help others.  I promise anonymity.  Please email me at