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Rabbi Bulka Z"L 's Weekly Question

What is your faith group's position on the causes and treatment of depression. Is it a chemical imbalance or a spiritual disorder?

This is a host of questions, each deserving a full answer. Let's begin with the simple observation that not all depressions are the same. Some depressions are even recommended, as long as they are genuine, and not of the "beyond control" variety. Someone who suffered the loss of a loved one, or who received awful news about their health, is likely to feel depressed, and legitimately so. One can make a good case for the argument that someone who feels no sadness or depression at the loss of a loved one has a greater problem than someone who is depressed.

There is a fundamental difference between being depressed and feeling depressed. The feeling is related to a precipitant, such as losing a loved one, or a job, or one's house. Being depressed can be brought on by a precipitant. It invades, and stays, in extreme cases totally disabling the person from being able to function.

But I hesitate to say that this is my faith group's position on this. We defer to the medical experts on medical matters. That is the way it should be.

As to the treatment of depression, here too it is not for any faith community to pronounce on what is the proper treatment. It is rather for the faith community to work with the medical community in helping the depressed individual. No therapist worth his/her salt would turn away offers by a religious community to help someone wrestling with depression, as long as that help works in tandem with the medical approach.

Depression is a most painful invasion of the human being. In my own experience, those who are depressed are usually very sensitive and caring people, who take life very seriously, perhaps too seriously. I am therefore very reluctant to think of depression as a spiritual disorder, in the sense of a spiritual deficiency.

But I am hopeful that the right mix of medical and spiritual intervention can help ease those who are depressed into greater functionality.


Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on  January 17, 2009


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