Should Catholic Faith & Spirituality Protect Against Poor Mental Health? 

There’s hardly a day goes by, but the mainstream media do not cover the issue of mental health to highlight problems experienced by just about every group in society, where stress and anxiety – and even the temptation to take one’s own life – appear to be on the increase. Click here to read a previous discussion on the subject of suicide and then listen to the young man in the video offering his ideas on how Catholics might deal with anxiety… 

Comment: 

In a documentary aired on BBC last night,  Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, spoke about his battles with drink and depression, and his ongoing battle with depression.   He was very open and honest, and, in the end, concluded that – in his view – despite his investigations into various treatments, and his use of anti-depressant tablets, he must reconcile himself to a lifetime of suffering depression.  But then, famously, Alistair Campbell doesn’t “DO God” so maybe Catholics suffering from the same anxiety and depression have something more positive ahead? 

Today is the Feast of St Rita of Cascia – a wife, mother, nun – who is patron of, among other things, impossible causes, so if you are suffering from mental health problems, or you know someone who is suffering in this way, you may consider praying to St Rita.

Share your thoughts – should our Catholic Faith and spirituality (sacraments, for example; rosary, for example; lives of the saints, for example) enable us to overcome, more easily, the affliction of poor mental health?   Or is that to misunderstand the nature of the problem? 

29 responses

  1. I would answer it this way – Catholic Faith and Spirituality can definitely assist mental health – God may grant your prayers! – but having the Faith is no guaranteed protection against getting mental health problems – ranging from depression / anxiety to psychosis or dementia, than it is any more a protection against cancer or any other serious physical disease. Sickness, whether mental or physical, is a cross, and should be offered up as such.
    I would advise against ‘mindfulness’ for mental health issues, which although (for the time being) is approved by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is just a thinly disguised cover for Buddhism (and in some cases not so thinly disguised) and there are now many articles emerging online warning of mental dangers associated with ‘mindfulness’ (not to mention the spiritual dangers).
    In mental health issues, as in everything else in life, people must work out their own salvation, ‘in fear and in trembling’. Pray what might be best for your own situation. I personally have found intense regular physical exercise to be far more beneficial than any other remedy for depression and anxiety I have tried. Others may find different ways to help themselves.
    But I have to say, I’m sick and tired of people like ‘celebrities’ / ‘minor Royals’ highlighting mental health issues as though there were no more serious problems to tackle in society. For some reason, it’s very ‘trendy’ at present. But many people confuse being fed up or worried, with having clinical depression or medically diagnosed anxiety disorder. The two former are completely different to the two latter conditions.
    While I do not endorse CTS booklets on the whole (so many dodgy ones), there is a good little CTS booklet called ‘Why Worry’ for those who suffer from anxiety. It is an old one, reprinted from nearly 60 years ago. I often have recourse to it – a good bedtime read. It can be purchased here: http://www.ctsbooks.org/why-worry
    I wouldn’t bother with BBC programmes on mental health issues. The BBC is far more likely to drive you to depression than save you from it!

  2. PS I’ve just watched the video above now. I assume that man was talking from the USA – but for those in the UK – be very careful. A lot of ‘therapists’ and there are so many bogus ones out there – and even many qualified psychiatrists – will assume that your Catholicism is the cause of your disorder, not the solution to it. Be very, very careful of ‘therapists’ however highly recommended they come.

  3. I suffer from depression and anxiety and have done for many, many years. Two years ago I had a substantial time off work to recover from a particularly severe bout of depression and attended counselling for ten weeks. I also take medication to help with the anxiety and depression.

    I believe that depression and anxiety are poorly understood by many. In my case, the way I think tends to cause me to worry which in turns leads to depression. The counselling I attended was cognitive behaviour therapy which encourages us to think differently. It has helped me.

    However, I came to realise about a year ago that this is also a spiritual problem. Indeed, the root cause could be spiritual. I don’t know for sure. I can only speak from my own experience. It is my firm belief that I suffer from diabolical oppression. During Mass last summer I felt particularly drawn to the Blessed Sacrament and had a strong feeling that the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, alongside the Rosary and Confession, was key.

    Since then, I’ve been much better. The problem hasn’t miraculously disappeared, but I know where the solution lies. I would encourage everyone who feels anxious or depressed to foster devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, Rosary and Confession.

    • Petrus,

      Your honesty is really encouraging. I think most of us tend to think being “fed up” or “over-tired” is the same as being depressed but it’s not.

      I think your remark about “the way you think” leads to depression and I find that to make sense. If things go round and round in my head, and they do a lot of the time, that is very tiring in itself and so it’s natural to slip into a bit of a depression. Thank God I’ve never experienced clinical or serious depression but I know people who have and that’s very serious.

      Prayer, especially the calming effect of the rosary, is bound to help but I don’t think just being a Catholic will prevent us from suffering mental health issues.

    • Petrus, thank you for sharing your experience.

      I was always something of a worrier, but have become less so as I have grown into middle age. All I can say is that, in my experience, the Mass (and the extra-liturgical cult of the Blessed Sacrament) and devotion to the Holy Mother (especially the Rosary) are major game changers. And if alms-giving is added into the mix, including prayer for the Holy Souls, everything seems to become so much more ‘charged’, as it were.

      I have always thought that one of the things that will most surprise us about the next life is the power of the spiritual. Here we are all bodily, and sometimes fail to perceive the spiritual at all; but the spiritual nevertheless dominates the physical realm even in this world.

      I feel for you when you say that you think you suffer from diabolical oppression (I think that you might mean ‘obsession’, which is the technical term). I think that I suffer from the same, but the means I outlined above seem to attenuate the situation, as does the Prayer to St Michael and the explicit request to Christ and Our Lady to save me from the Devil’s onslaughts.

      Anyone who is moving closer to God is going to become a target for the Devil. When we are sinners, the Devil ‘has us’ and tries to keep is. He is only interested in one dimension: where we stand in relation to God and where we stand in relation to him. God and he are mutually exclusive, so that in moving closer to God, we move away from him, and vice-versa.

      • No, I don’t mean obsession – I mean oppression. There’s a difference between the two and both are realities.

  4. Well, I’m very impressed indeed with the openness and honesty of both WF and Petrus at the outset of this thread.

    I would definitely second WF’s warning about therapy. Having completed a (basic) humanistic counselling course myself some years ago, I was astonished at the way the questioning techniques taught to would-be therapists/counsellors, is designed to lead clients on the road to all-out selfishness.

    For example, one of the students on the course, during one of the teaching and learning sessions, revealed her unhappy marriage situation. Bit by bit, the instructor counsellor led her to the point where she came face to face with the possibility of abandoning her husband and children, and starting over again on her own terms. That, in fact, is what she opted to do. When I made the point, after the initial questioning process, that surely there were other matters to consider apart from how she “felt” and what could improve the situation “for her”, such as the vows she took on her wedding day, her commitments/duty towards her children, I was shouted down. In the end, having left her family for a time, the student returned home and – hopefully – peace and harmony were restored but if so, it was no thanks to the counselling instructors.

    It’s good to know that your experience of therapy was more positive, Petrus, and it’s very interesting to note that you have found help, too, through the application of Catholic spirituality.

    • Editor,

      I think you are right to caution against therapy. I had a choice whether to have traditional counselling or cognitive behaviour therapy and chose the latter. I did receive a questionnaire once from a NHS agency offering counselling, but I couldn’t believe the questions being asked so I binned the questionnaire and chose to focus on the CBT.

    • Editor,

      I find your experience interesting. I knew an academic in the humanities many years ago who suddenly moved into counselling, first with students and then more generally. I was completely taken aback by what was nothing short of a gospel of self-promotion at all costs, and to hell with everyone and anything else.

      But could a purely humanistic approach be any different? I think not.

  5. I would say that undoubtedly the Catholic faith can protect mental health. Just look at the great peace and clarity it brings to so many. Especially famous examples of people, often Saints, who were able to cheerfully tolerate great privations or cruelties where they might otherwise have given into despair or depression.

    The faith is so poorly understood today, however, that many people no doubt sadly miss out on the advantages faith can bring here.

    For example, and I hope these examples are valid (!): knowing that God’s will is ultimately the driver of events – for reasons we may not understand – and that God’s grace can sustain us can be of huge help in circumstances where worry or sadness may afflict us. Equally, we all have a guardian angel – what strength one could draw from simply being aware that we have such a guardian in life. I have made sure my 3 year old daughter knows about her guardian angel and includes a petition to her guardian during her bedtime prayer.

    In my mid-teenage years, doubtless the least religious period of my life, I suffered a period of depression. To look back – at the age I am now, I don’t particularly care to count the years haha! – it seems like looking back at a different person and it seems so alien to me now. But at the time it did have quite a severe impact on me.

    Interestingly, there have since been news reports that a prescription drug I took (at the time) is linked to poor mental health as a side effect, but I do not know if that was a contributor in my case. I remember that I was prone to patterns of very negative thinking, which would lead to a bleak outlook.

    Perhaps if I had been aware of the virtue of Hope, then this would have been some help to me – Hope is a better thing to invest in, than is negativity. Equally, had I been more aware of (and hence appreciative of) the many and undeserved blessings in my life, then that would have been another factor in overturning such negative thoughts. I think I perhaps took things for granted, or was blind to them, such that I could not see that I was surrounded by great love and had talents / opportunities, all thanks to the God.

    I still have many undeserved blessings in my life today, but every so often I try to pause to appreciate them.

    There are many surveys which tend to show religious people are happier and more content. Perhaps we could sum it up by saying that a life of faith causes us to find great joy in the positives of life, even small ones, and to have hope for the future (including after death). Whereas, in a life without faith – where happiness and peace are often directly linked to materialism – the negatives of life can seem to dominate and there can be a sense of pointlessness.

    I think mental health used to carry stigma, but not anymore. As many as 1 in 5 people suffer from poor mental health at any one time. Having faith and ordering our lives to God is both natural and healthy for individuals. Perhaps we could say that faith contributes to our mental health, in the same way that exercise and a good diet contribute to our physical health.

    • Gabriel Syme,

      I remember reading somewhere (some years ago) that in the USA therapists would say that they had very few Catholic patients and they attributed that to the regular use of the Confessional and the spiritual life in general, so there is a lot in what you say.

      • Dear Madame Editor,

        Gabriel and I must be kindred spirits because his situation was much similar to mine when I was in my teens.

        I have worked in a U.S. health food store for 20+ years. There are many physical factors which contribute to depression: lack of the B vitamins (found especially in red meat), essential fatty acids (e.g. fish; salmon *skin* – don’t throw it out!), as well as lack of sleep.

        This is from the Weston A. Price Foundation in the U.S.:

        https://www.westonaprice.org/mental-emotional-health/

        I particularly recommend the third article on the list. It’s 67 pages but is definitely worth reading.

        • Margaret USA,

          That’s very interesting about the physical factors contributing to mental health issues like depression. I don’t think the Vegans will like your “Vitamin B especially in red meat”, LOL! However, I’m glad it’s on your list!

        • Margaret
          I woud certainly agree that healthy eating contributes to better mental health. However, in the UK many are taken in by ‘fad’ diets and unecessary supplements containing huge amounts of vitamins and minerals that no normal amount of food could provide (however there is growing evidence that so-called ‘nutraceuticals’ such as Curcumin can help prevent and cure all sorts of health issues). A good basic common-sense guide to healthy eating is here:- https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-eatwell-guide

    • Gabriel Syme,

      I think you’ve put your finger on the reason why so many people today are experiencing mental health problems – the inability to suffer deprivations and how the saints help us to do this.

      That’s not to diminish the suffering of people who get depressed (Petrus’s honest admission of his own depression is awesome) but just a general comment. If we all thought of our faith in a more practical “lifestyle” way, we would probably avoid the pitfalls that cause depression, generally speaking.

  6. Q: Should Catholic Faith & Spirituality Protect Against Poor Mental Health?
    A: Yes, of course – properly understood. 🙂

    The Faith puts us in a right relationship with the Almighty, so when applied it will always elevate our efforts by putting them on a supernatural level.

    As Westminsterfly said, with out without the Faith, there will be mental health problems, just as there will be physical ailments like cancer. Job is the great example of how someone can be good and still suffer horribly; it is a comforter of Job who wrongly blames the innocent man when he faces hardship and trials.

    Here in the States I’ve met two Traditional Catholics who are professional counselors, and I enjoyed asking them about how they performed their jobs in conjunction with their Faith. They were glad to discuss how they work, and they gave examples of situations and technqiues they avoid in their profession because they are not consistent with the Faith.

    A Traditional priest I know said that at times a counselor is good because all someone really needs “is someone to talk to.” Having a dispassionate person lend a sympathetic and helpful hear can be tremendously helpful. And for those who need more help, asking an expert for assistance in correctly identifying problems and developing strategies for dealing with them is good medicine.

    • Wurdesmythe,

      Someone to talk to is really key, IMHO. This is true even when we are feeling a bit low, never mind in a full-blown depression or with feeling one coming on.

      I liked your reminder about Job in the Bible and it got me thinking that we can take comfort from Jesus’ own agony in the garden, when He asked that, if possible, His suffering could pass Him by.

      At school, we were always encouraged to say short prayers throughout the day, such as “Jesus mercy, Mary help!” I think that such short prayers would be helpful in times of depression if we could train ourselves to think of them.

  7. I have friends who pray to St Dympna for problems of mental health or nervous disorders.
    https://www.ourcatholicprayers.com/prayer-to-st-dymphna.html

    It seems strange that so many people are suffering from poor mental health when we’re supposed to be such an affluent and successful country, and nobody can “judge” anyone’s choices, so we are all free to live and act as we please. Why, then, are so many people unhappy and even suicidal?

    • Josephine,

      I don’t think it’s about being “happy”. Not for me, anyway. I experience depression as a mental fog; a cloud There’s a theory it can be a chemical imbalance in the brain.

      • Petrus,

        I will not have anyone casting aspersions on your brain. Not even you!

        Seriously, good point about a possible chemical imbalance rather than emotion.

  8. Could I ask for prayers for a seriously disturbed man who is showing real signs of obsession on social media? He’s clearly very unhappy and has posted a series of nasty tweets against a Catholic author and broadcaster who has just released a new book exposing the crisis in the Church. Please pray for him.

    • Petrus,

      Certainly, I will offer a prayer for the disturbed man on social media. St Dympna, mentioned above by Josephine, is a patron of the mentally ill. St Dympna, pray for him.

  9. I’m posting this here because I believe abortion is one of the causes of mental health problems in women. I saw this on Sky News earlier this week, where it was televised on several consecutive days in their drive to discredit the Alabama senators who voted to ban abortions (in line with voters’ wishes)

    Notice the brilliant response from the prolife man at the very beginning… Didn’t seem to convince Amanda Walker, the Sky News reporter, nor did the moving baby on the scan seem to touch her at all. Dead consciences are a terrible affliction …

  10. This thread makes a very interesting read and of course in our present situation Worldwide it is very understandable why people are depressed …giving myself as an example I live in a red light district have been fighting Vice and pimps and perverted people for nearly 15 plus years Police ,Cllrs , Council no one listens or acts The Christian so called |MP votes for everything abortion and also does not want any pro arrested only yesterday I was asked to go to see what pros leave in an Old Peoples Home it was disgusting not only used condoms all over the car park but in the bin area used condoms galore and wrappers all over everywhere ..the poor residents are beside themselves …we have been to The Press dozens of times and on the TV and radio and sent in hundreds of photos !This is life under Labour..down the Town dozens of people begging and approaching you lying under duvets and blankets its so uncomfortable being amongst them and a lot of them are not homeless either
    Then of course the ongoing epic saga of BREXIT we voted out and we are still waiting to get out so many people have said how stressed they are
    Us pro life people then have the extra huge tragic burden of not only fighting for pre born babies but being lied and targeted by minnions of evil hell bend no pun intended to obliterate any thing pro life ..so for us it is doom and misery around the clock no one wants to know and you are trapped the amount of people who live near me are classed as severely stressed and depressed recently I did have a bad bought of the blues still not back to myself but have to try

  11. I do wonder at the number of reports on the news and in documentaries about mental health. I understand, of course, that there will be genuine cases, but I can’t help wondering just how much is down to imagination or blaming “mental health” when it’s really just a normal feeling of being downhearted or something like that.

    Saying that, I do have a friend whose son is seriously mentally ill with schizophrenia, so I’d ask bloggers’ prayers for him.

    • Margaret Mary,

      Yes, I think you make a good point. It’s almost become fashionable to have “mental health problems”. I don’t understand that myself, because it certainly isn’t something I would wish upon myself!

  12. I second Margaret Mary’s wondering. Lately, at the gym I attend (a national chain which has its own TV channel, complete with noise that attempts to pass for music), there have been regular ads by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, urging people to pay more attention to their own and others’ symptoms, and claiming that regular exercise has been shown to alleviate symptoms.

    This seemed to be a bigger PR push than the last one a couple of years ago, which featured radio ads about mental illness, designed, if I remember correctly, to evoke sympathy for the mentally ill. My cynical knee-jerk reaction is that this has nothing to do with addressing and ameliorating mental illness, but a lot to do with the first stages of making the mentally ill a new victim class, who will soon be able to join the other victim mobs in claiming that being classified as mentally ill is a violation of their “rights,” and who will also claim their own version of “pride.”

    The obvious question here is this: why haven’t the subscribers to the “LGBT” phenomenon been classified as mentally ill? If the willful denial of objective reality doesn’t qualify as mental illness, I don’t know what does.

  13. I deal with depression going back decades. I remember a time in the 1970’s where I was living a faithful life as a Catholic, with daily prayer and participation in the sacraments. I would sometimes remark to my Christian friends though that I found life to be bland and without joy. Though it was not an issue seen by most of my friends and family, not too many years later I quit drinking and found help through AA. My lack of joy continued to ebb and flowed through the years until I did find additional help through counseling and medication. I have also experienced suicide in my family, written about here https://withgreathope.com/2019/05/28/final-cigar/ But the most consistent source of help I experience comes through the graces received through the intercession of our Mother, Mary. What consolation she brings time and time again!

    • DMJones255,

      My heart went out to you on the loss of your son – thank you for that link.

      I loved the bit where it was pointed out that he – like the rest of us – asked Our Lady to “pray for us now and at the hour of our death”, such a consoling thought, that we have asked for this grace over and over again.

      Our Blessed Lady is extremely powerful, so I agree with your final comments.

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