Spiritual but not religious

Our monthly feature seeks to offer open-minded, clarifying, and meaningful responses to readers’ questions about spirituality. Send your questions to The Resident.

Q: This endless pandemic has got me down. Can spirituality help with depression?

The word “depression” is used in at least two ways, and that can cause some confusion. In a medical or psychological sense, “depression” is a diagnosis with a specific set of symptoms and varying recommended courses of treatment. The word is also used as a general way of describing mild and temporary feelings of low energy or malaise.

Hence, I must start with the disclaimer that I’m neither a psychologist nor a physician. Feelings of malaise and low energy can be symptoms of a medical or psychological condition that can and should be addressed by a competent professional.

Spiritual practitioners should learn to recognise signs, in themselves and others, that require a clinical response. As a pastor, whenever someone suggests to me that they are “feeling depressed”, I always encourage them to visit a physician or therapist to review their symptoms carefully. I believe in the efficacy of medicine and the value of therapy. If you are feeling helpless or hopeless, please consult someone right away.

Beyond triggering clinical depression in many, the pandemic has affected us all. Not only in direct consequences to those who’ve contracted the disease, but also on everyone who has spent the past year feeling worried and uncertain, who has had their routines disrupted, who is caring for our mourning family members or friends who have been ill or died. It’s no surprise that we find ourselves anxious, irritable, sleep-deprived, lonely or sad. Situational depression can be a cue to find safety in a time of stress – to be quiet, rest more, move slowly.

I don’t think of spirituality as a solution or remedy for depression; but rather as a way of seeing a stressful situation and our responses in wholistic terms.

Quiet and contemplation helps us consider the relationship between our mental and physical state, practice breathing and prayer, and examine our interactions with those close to us, with the world, and with God or the universe.

Human beings are not created to spend long periods in isolation. Connecting with friends and family through writing, telephone calls, or technology can help us restore our joy. A pandemic is an opportunity to develop our spirituality and an excellent time to practice and maintain it.

The Rev. Reid Hamilton
St Vincent’s Church