Spiritual depression refers to feelings of sadness, a loss of joy, and a disconnect from spirituality, religion, or God. There is no single cause for depression, but it can stem from a chemical imbalance or external factors.
Spiritual depression is a term introduced in 1954 by minister and medical doctor Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures.
Experiencing spiritual depression may involve feeling like there is a loss of faith or connection to God, having less time or inclination toward religious or spiritual study, or generally feeling low. It also may refer to a loss of a person’s own innate spirituality, such as with a connection to nature or something that feels bigger than the self.
Treatment for spiritual depression may involve speaking with a spiritual or religious leader, praying, or studying religious scripture. However, a mental health professional may also provide support and other forms of treatment, such as therapy and medication.
This article will explore what spiritual depression is, the signs, causes, and treatment.
According to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, a bible verse once came to him from Psalm 42:11, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” From these emotions, he compiled a list of sermons that dealt with the topic of spiritual depression.
While spiritual depression is not an official medical diagnosis, people may refer to spiritual depression if they are feeling a loss of connection to their spirituality or religion, a lack of God or a higher power in their life, or a general feeling of melancholy or sadness.
Spiritual depression does not always stem from a religious belief or background, however. Spiritual depression can stem from having a strong connection to things outside of ourselves, such as nature or the universe.
A person may have confusion, have negative feelings over their purpose, or feel sad trying to make sense of the meaning of life.
What does it mean to be spiritual?
One study defines spirituality in five factors,
- meaning, and what one gives meaning to
- value, and what one gives value to
- transcendence, which is an experience that goes beyond what may seem “normal”
- connection with oneself, other people, and a supreme or higher power such as God or the environment
- becoming, which is the progress that one makes in life
A spiritual depression may arise when a person feels less connected or has no joy or meaning in relation to one of these five factors.
There is no definitive list of signs of spiritual depression, but many may overlap with depression itself. A person experiencing spiritual depression may feel a disconnect from God or a higher power alongside a sense of deep sadness or a lack of joy.
Some potential signs include:
- a lack of faith or confusion about faith
- a disconnect from God, whichever religion a person may follow
- feeling like God does not answer prayers
- sadness or lack of joy in faith, religion, or relationship with God
- avoiding places of worship
- avoiding people a person once worshipped with
- general feelings of sadness, emptiness
- inability to feel pleasure
- feeling like life has lost meaning
- negative thinking about religion, God, a higher power, or the universe
- negative thinking about the meaning of life, such as there is no meaning, therefore everything feels “pointless”
- a sense of overall hopelessness
Many signs of spiritual depression may overlap with symptoms of depression overall. These
- feelings of sadness or “emptiness”
- lack of joy or desire to do things once enjoyed
- feelings of irritability or frustration
- feelings of worthlessness
- little energy, feeling tired all the time
- difficulty sleeping and eating
- physical ailments such as stomach aches or headaches
- unplanned weight changes
- suicidal thoughts
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
Spiritual depression will usually relate to a person’s spirituality or faith. Depression itself may arise from no outside circumstances.
Signs of spiritual depression may morph into depression as a mental health condition known as clinical depression. A person may also have both spiritual depression and clinical depression at the same time, particularly if they feel they have lost connection with their faith, resulting in less joy in overall life.
Depression itself can stem from a variety of causes,
- genetics, or a family history of depression
- life factors, such as trauma, negative experiences, loss, or stress
- physical health problems such as thyroid disease
Spiritual depression may stem from the above in relation to faith, spirituality, and religion. This may include:
- life challenges that may make a person question whether there is a God or what the purpose of their life is
- worries about the future, including anxious feelings of not being in control of what may happen
- difficulty moving on from the past, or past wrongdoings or “sins” a person may have done
- having less time for practicing spirituality, such as no time for worship or praying
- doubt stemming from seeing bad and upsetting things happen in life, such as war, death, and crime
- having existential doubts, such as why people have to suffer or what direction they need to take in life
- mental health conditions such as anxiety
- dissatisfaction with how life is or what people value, such as materialistic things
Silviu’s story: Spiritual depression
“When I started going through a spiritual depression, the very first sign I noticed was a drop in feeling connected to friends and family. As I noticed myself going through a shift, I could differentiate between my clinical depression and my spiritual depression, although I didn’t know the term then. This had to do more with the feeling of frustration from a loss of identity and questioning my own beliefs.
I stopped believing in the power of God and religion, and I started focusing more on the self and less on the external, such as people, places, or things. I had a lack of understanding of what was happening to me and why I felt things differently and felt like an outcast. External factors played a huge role in my whole life, but this time, I was forced to work on myself, which was something new to me.
What helped me overcome it was doing some research on the subject. It took me a lot of open-mindedness and courage to inwardly work on myself. I noticed that meditation was also a powerful tool that helped me, especially at the beginning when my emotions were heightened. The last thing that I needed to happen to overcome it was to talk about it with friends, family, and anyone else who I might have felt was going to understand me”.
The first step to overcoming spiritual depression is to recognize the differences between spiritual depression and clinical depression. Identifying how a person’s spirituality, or lack of it, can cause depression is a key step to overcoming it, as well as being aware of overall depression symptoms.
It may be a good idea to recognize areas in life that may relate to a person’s spiritual depression, such as having stopped praying or going to places of worship. In cases like these, taking steps to reach out to people who may be able to help, such as a pastor or imam, can be beneficial.
Overcoming spiritual depression can look different to each person. Some ways that could help to overcome it include:
- learning about what gives life meaning, which will vary from person to person
- recognizing that everyone has moments of feeling directionless or purposelessness
- practicing mindfulness to try and foster a mind, body, and spirit connection
- cultivating self-awareness; this can include a person learning about themselves, what triggers negative and positive feelings, identifying values, and practicing gratitude
- making an effort to do things that feed spirituality, such as going to church, speaking with God, or spending time in nature
- engaging in spiritual practices such as praying or meditating
- learning to trust in God
- seeking support and guidance from spiritual leaders
- going on spiritual retreats or workshops
- doing activities that feed the mind, body, and spirit, such as yoga
- learning to forgive things that may have happened in the past without dwelling on them
Spiritual depression is unique in the sense that faith is different for everyone; thus, overcoming it will also look different.
Depression can be a debilitating experience, and it is always important to speak with a healthcare professional about symptoms as well.
Some people with spiritual depression may also have clinical depression at the same time. Treating depression
Support for spiritual depression can come from many avenues, including spiritual leaders and mentors such as pastors or clinical therapists who specialize in spiritual counseling.
Being open and honest about what a person is feeling is important, and to not be afraid of what others may think of their faith, their relationship with God, or their feelings toward themselves.
Faith-based counseling is available and can ensure a therapist is empathetic and understanding toward any spiritual concerns.
Be sure to:
- Make sure a therapist has their license and is trained and certified in their profession, such as through the American Psychological Association or American Psychiatric Association.
- Be open about spiritual issues or concerns.
- Talk with spiritual leaders or mentors to see if they know any counselors or faith-based counselors.
Spiritual depression can mean a person feels sadness centering around a disconnect from spirituality, religion, or God. It may stem from traumatic life challenges, existential doubts, and general dissatisfaction with how life is.
Many people may experience spiritual depression alongside clinical depression, and it is important to speak with a doctor about symptoms. Speaking with spiritual leaders or mentors can also provide support and put a person on the right track for overcoming it.