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What Came First, Religion or Depression?

There’s a cartoon picturing a chicken and an egg in bed together. The chicken is smoking a cigarette with a very satisfied expression on his face, and the egg is restless and disgruntled. The egg finally looks over to the chicken and says, “Well, I guess that answers that question.”

That’s how I think of the relationship between religion and depression: like the chicken and the egg debacle.

I can’t say which came first in my life, because they were both there from the start. And you need only read through a few of the lives of the saints or walk the exhibition aisles at the Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit to see that holy people aren’t all that happy much of the time.

How is it that we depressives tend to be more spiritual? Or is it that the more religion you get in your life, the more depressed?

5 Comments to
What Came First, Religion or Depression?

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  1. On the other hand, I’ve read several times that really healthy people are often inclined to spirituality….

  2. I am sure that (much like the chicken or the egg debate) there is a much more “grey area” answer to that question. For example, before you ever knew and understood religion, you had religious parents. Did their action influence the emotional state. If you removed religion from the “experiment” known as your life, would depression have been the result anyway, due to the status of your parents’ approaches. That which influences your parents’ values and emotions influences yours. That which influenced their parents values and emotions, influenced your parents’, in turn influences yours, and you will pass on to your children. If religion was one of those influences, then it would be hard to tell. Each generation filtering it in a way that they perceive it. If you don’t want it to affect your children in a negative fashion, then I would guess identifying what causes those negative responses (such as guilt and depression) would go a long way in breaking the cycle.

    For me, I remember a conversation that I overheard my mother and father having at the kitchen table just outside my bedroom when I was 7. We went to mass every weekend and followed all the Catholic traditions. I heard them talking about how, “Is it right to lie to our children on religious holidays about things like Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny?” I was like “what?! Santa isn’t real?.. The Easter Bunny Either..? Who is this Jesus guy?,… He doesn’t even bring me gifts or candy? I am just supposed to take their word he is real?!” This would start a life long struggle with my spirituality and belief in anything I can’t touch, see, hear, or at least reason. Aside from supplying a hypocritical message (many parents to extremes in order to convince their children of this lie based on a religious holiday.), it negates every message attached to those traditions. This confusing message has been shown to be part of the root of depression in many studies. So, is it the religion causing the depression, or the poor parenting techniques?

    • You’re absolutely right–my depression was brought about while I was extremely religious because of my family always being involved in church. Religion has contributed to the depression, it has not helped. Instead of being able to believe that God would want me to be unhappy and depressed (what good god would want pain for his children?), my depression has been made worse by religion. My faith has not increased as a result, it has decreased. For me, the relision has definitely made my life worse.

      • Dear Deb

        Thank you so much for putting into words what i have been groping with, and was unable to say. In a nutshell, religion has indeed made all facets of my anxiety and depression far worse than its ever been. And the GUILT for THAT is just ridiculous. There’s no balance here.The feeling of being the outcast, being passed over, intentionally avoided , ostrasized (sp.) has done nothing but make me feel isolated all the more, and angry with god because of it. Self esteem has plummeted. I feel very alone much of the time, which breeds more of the negative cycles of thought.
        Anyhow, thank you again.I know there’s a balance in here somewhere.

  3. I would offer that religion (at least in my experience with many different evangelical churches, moderate to extreme in their beliefs) first marks you as a sinner because of your depression, and because of that makes you feel worse than if you stayed home.

    I have found (now that I have lived as an agnostic/apatheist for the past 8+ years), that I am on average a happier person (by no means cured of my depression) than I ever was on average as a religious person. I still suffer, but again on an average day I’m overall happier…because I control my life and the very few other people I allow into it.

    The additional burden of the “depression is caused by sin” which nearly all evangelical churches (have to because of the stated purpose of their existence) espouse to one degree or another (some very subtly) is a burden no one should not have to bear.

    It is better (and showcases the futility of being a member of a church) to stay home where at least you don’t pound guilt onto yourself for your depression as would others who subscribe to an ignorant theory.

    It is much easier for me to deal with it by myself than with people looking down their noses at me and having to feel inferior to people who are hypocritically faking it and suffer from depression themselves, or from people who don’t have a clue about what real depression is and have never suffered from it, but are the first to have an insensitive opinion of the sufferer.



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