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Ask the Clergy: How can faith help depression?

While some forms of depression require intervention by medical professionals, other bouts of the blues might benefit from faith and prayer, according to our clergy.

Father Leo Goldade, superior, St. Josaphat's Monastery, Glen Cove:

There is clinical-based depression and situational depression. I'd like to talk about situational depression, which is depression related to something outside yourself, to another person or situation. This is usually a temporary situation. As a priest, I'm not equipped to do other than send someone with clinical depression to seek medical help. With situational depression, there is usually some recognizable reason for it.

Prayer and faith don't cure depression; rather, they help you live or deal with it. Prayer can be that bridge between your feeling alone and helpless, to understanding that you're never alone. The greater your faith grows, the more you realize you're not dealing with things all alone.

It is that sense of having no one to turn to that can be most devastating when suffering from depression. When you have faith, you know that you're never alone. There is always someone there to help you shoulder life's burdens.

The Rev. Brian McMillan, Center Point Church, Bellmore:

Faith (Hebrews 11), along with professional counseling and assistance, can be very useful in dealing with depression. Yes, there are cases of clinical depression, where chemical intervention may be necessary. But, where that is not the case, faith helps the person not to feel alone.

More important, it can help restore hope to the person. With depression, it is important that the person be able to get outside himself and see that there is hope. Faith, which teaches us that we are never alone and that there is always a helping hand, can do much to help restore someone who is suffering.

At one time, I think, there was an attitude that depression is simply someone not being right in his or her relationship with God. We now understand much better about depression. Faith doesn't cure depression, but helps the person have hope not only about feelings of depression but about what one is going through.

Prayer is also an important part of helping the person. Sometimes, when you can't open up to others, you can open up to God. And by being able to tell God, it helps you have the strength, the courage to go to others for help.

Rabbi Ira Ebbin, Congregation Ohav Sholom, Merrick:

You must make the distinction between dealing with simple depression and clinical depression that requires chemical intervention.

Depression tends to envelop the individual and causes him to focus solely on his own issues. He focuses solely on his challenges, his pains, his suffering. Faith is about thinking about the other: God, other individuals. Faith is a mandate not to look at one's self. You don't focus on providing for your own self needs. With faith, you serve God and other people.

I had a congregant who was going through depression. In addition to suggesting he seek clinical help, I suggested he volunteer to go to the homes of senior congregants to help them with their sukkahs, which are temporary dwellings built during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

He came back to me and was completely a different person because he was able to focus on the needs of others. It took him out of himself and his troubles for a while.

Depression is a mode of self-absorption. Someone who is depressed must find a way to get out of the cocoon he or she has wrapped him or herself in. You must do for others, and do for God. Faith and religion are the perfect vehicles to address nonclinical depression.

I tell my bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah students that we are created narcissistic. Faith is here to teach us to not be so self-serving, which is what that little voice inside us is telling us to be. So much of the symptoms of depression come from a sense of hopelessness and feeling alone. We must remember that we are not alone (Psalm 23).

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