What exactly is the relationship between our spiritual health and our psychological health? Between despair and depression? I think most people would say that they are inter-related—what affects one affects the other. But, even though they are inter-related, are the fundamental or core problems different? And thus, are the solutions not different?
Gordon Marino suggests in an article in the NY Times, Kierkegaard on the Couch, that today we have become “deaf to the ancient distinction between psychological and spiritual disorders, between depression and despair.” Are not many happy and yet full of despair. Quoting Kierkegaard, Marino says, “Happiness is the greatest hiding place for despair.”
If despair is a spiritual problem, then perhaps the solution is also physical? Marino said that despair equaled intensified doubt for K? Quoting, from From K’s Sickness unto death, “A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity.” For K, despair seems to occurs when there is an imbalance in this synthesis. Despair according to Kierkegaard is a lack of awareness of being a self or spirit, says Marino. Perhaps the dark feelings of depression and despair may look similar but come to be due to different causes.
So, if despair is related to a loss of hope or could we say a desperate longing for the transcendent, then a visit to a mental health professional alone will not bring the answer that is needed. A spiritual consultation may be what is needed, along with a visit to a mental health professional and to a medical doctor. How do we provide care for depression and yet allow people to sense their despair at being disconnected from the Transcendent one?
Gordon Marino at NY Times on Oct 28, 2009
I have tried to be honest about my journey with depression over the past few years. But, as I have written in other places, beneath a lot (but certainly not all) depression lies anger. And being honest about my own anger has not been nearly as easy to admit and discuss with people. Not that I should be talking about it with everybody.
Indeed my personal journey with depression (sounds kind of strange–like depression has been my friend) has often been intertwined with anger. By being willing to talk about my own struggles with depression, others have been willing to admit their own depression and talk about it a little. It gives me no joy that there are so many men out there fighting the dark cloud but it is encouraging to know that this battle is not one anyone needs to fight alone. And it does bring me joy when my friends begin to get help to climb out of the despairing pit.
I suppose that normally anger seems to come before depression. And according to David Benner, anger comes out of an experience of pain or an experience of loss. So, the real challenge is for men to talk not just about our depression and anger but also about our pain and losses. And that is where it gets tough doesn’t it?
What got me going on this topic is an article that my dear wife sent me, an article by Anthony Bradley in World Magazine titled, “Do Men Hurt?” Bradley writes,
Sadly, for many men, pain is often dismissed, ignored, or confused with sin. Many men do sinful things not out of a rebellious spirit but to self-medicate real pain. We all find ways to deal with pain, and sometimes it opens the door for sin.
Reminds me of a post I made about a book I real last year by Terrence Real,
I don’t want to talk about it,
One reason so many men face depression is that they do not face or deal well with the pain in their lives–often leading to addictive behavior to cover up the pain.
Pretty sensitive areas to discuss in a small group, eh? The problem is that for too many of us, there is no safe place, not even the church! Not that I am down on the church–don’t misunderstand me. Its just that the church seems to rarely be the place it could be. For more on that, read Larry Crabb’s excellent book, The Safest Place on Earth. Here is more from Bradley on this topic.
Many churches do not provide safe space for men to confess being in need of healing (Luke 4, Isaiah 61) due to the hands many men have been dealt, sins committed against them in the past or present, their own addictions, confusions, passivity, anger, and so on. As a result, we have churches full of unhealed and wounded men who often medicate their pain in secret or take it out on their wives, children, friends, and co-workers. The dysfunctional cycle of self-medication creates even more generational sin and pain.
Anyway, I am finding this post to be a healthy challenge for me to think about my own openness–how much am I willing to share about my pain with others? What am I hiding? And, how am I doing in creating safe places for men who need to talk about their pain? I know it means that I have to think about ME less, make myself more available to build relationships of trust. Likely, it means that less may very well be more in the long run. And as Bradley exhorts in his article, all of us need to remember that it is only relationship with the Triune God that can bring the healing that we need.
Want to end this post on a positive note and so here is a vision that Bradley gives worth praying towards. Again, the link to his entire article.
I look forward to the day in ministry contexts where I hear stories of men growing up in churches who were able to get help early because it was a normal way the church loved their men.