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Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

What is the proper role of spirituality in the treatment of mental health problems?

Presumably, your question is about how spirituality can be "used" to address mental health problems. In that regard it is perhaps more useful to look at the spiritual roots of mental health issues.

Take probably the most ubiquitous of mental health problems -- depression. Most people I know who suffer from depression are caring individuals with a very real spiritual side. Sometimes the depression is related to too much caring, to a heightened spirituality of some sort.

People who do not care are not bothered. People who care are usually bothered, and sometimes bothered enough to lose one's mind. It is unfortunate when this happens, but at the same time it is a compliment to those who care that much.

This is important to appreciate, because it immediately neutralizes any thoughts people may harbour that someone with mental health problems is spiritually deficient. The opposite is more likely to be the case.

So, we approach any "treatment" of mental health problems with the realization that the spiritual side is already quite manifest in those with mental health problems.

It is hard to overestimate how powerful an impact this can make on those who are confronting mental health challenges. Imagine how it feels to be told that quite possibly this profound spiritual sensitivity is what has been a major contributor to the depression. Upon hearing this, someone who is down in the dumps, and down on the self, is given a kind wake-up call that says all the suffering is not because the person is bad. Just the opposite, it is because the patient is good.

This realization, once transmitted and absorbed, can be a great help in whatever healing approach is taken. And investing life with a sense of purpose, with a future filled with tasks to fulfil and values to actualize, can be of great benefit to someone mired in the present with no hope for the future.

Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on  September 20, 2008

Tue, January 26 2021 13 Shevat 5781