Spiritual depression generally refers to a loss of spiritual vitality and joy. In terms of Christianity, experiencing a spiritual depression might involve:
- losing touch with your faith
- “forgetting” God, or struggling to find time for spiritual study
- focusing more on past mistakes than changes you might make to do better in the future
- a general sense of unhappiness or melancholy
Protestant minister D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones appears to have introduced the term in “Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures,” a collection of sermons exploring the topic.
He notes, however, that spiritual depression itself dates back to the Bible. In Psalm 42, for example, the unnamed psalmist asks, “Why are thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.”
If you’re experiencing spiritual depression, your religious leader might encourage a similar remedy: prayer or seeking Christ. Yet, many of the symptoms associated with spiritual depression can also suggest a depressive disorder, which may not improve without support from a mental health professional.
Our guide below offers a more in-depth look at the difference between the two, along with guidance on handling symptoms that prove more persistent.
While this article focuses on spiritual depression in the context of Christianity, people can experience both spiritual depression and depressive disorders regardless of their religion or spiritual practice.
While there’s no agreed-upon list of signs of spiritual depression, people experiencing spiritual depression often say they feel disconnected or cut off from God.
You might have some confusion or frustration about your faith, feel unable to talk to God, or believe God no longer hears your prayers.
Other key signs include:
- struggling to find joy in worship
- withdrawing from your church or religious community
- avoiding other members of the church
- losing interest in your regular church activities or performing them only from a sense of duty
- feeling as if Bible study or other religious pursuits have lost their meaning
- failing to find comfort in prayer
- negative or pessimistic thinking about God or religion
- questioning or doubting your faith
- a sense of spiritual hopelessness or discouragement
These feelings can also create tension in your personal relationships. Feeling unable to share your struggles with your partner, or believing they don’t understand what you’re going through if you do share, can add to your frustration and distress.
What about symptoms of depression?
While depression involves similar signs, these symptoms won’t necessarily relate just to your faith or spirituality. Instead, they’ll show up in most areas of your life.
Recognizing depression symptoms can be tricky when you have other concerns weighing on you. That said, depression goes beyond feeling low on occasion.
With depression, you’ll most likely notice several of the following:
- a sad or hopeless mood on more days than not
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness, which might show up as negative self-talk
- a loss of energy or motivation
- less interest in your regular activities
- less interest in spending time with friends and loved ones
- unusual anger or irritability
- trouble managing emotions
- insomnia, fatigue, or other sleep problems
- physical symptoms, including aches and pains and stomach concerns
- regular thoughts of death, dying, or suicide
Challenging life situations or experiences can often trigger feelings of depression. Distress that begins as more of a spiritual depression could eventually evolve into something more persistent and serious.
What’s more, it’s entirely possible to experience both spiritual and clinical depression at the same time. Losing touch with the spiritual connection that usually comforts and supports you could make you feel hopeless or guilty and lose enthusiasm for everyday life.
Religious and spiritual leaders generally agree that periods of doubt, disquiet, and spiritual depression are very common.
They suggest several possible causes of these feelings:
Facing the ordinary trials and stressors of everyday life can contribute to spiritual distress. These difficulties might include:
- job loss
- financial issues
- family or relationship concerns
- serious or chronic physical or mental health concerns
- worries about the future
Any of these challenges can also contribute to depression, but depression can also develop without a clear trigger or cause.
Fixation on past sins
Everyone errs, or makes mistakes, on occasion. It’s part of being human.
Yet certain mistakes can linger in your memory even when you try to move forward.
Struggling to move on from a past or present error could contribute to unshakeable feelings of guilt and other spiritual turmoil — even after you seek forgiveness.
A tendency to fixate on past mistakes and regrets can also show up with major depression, so it’s important to reach out when you have trouble navigating this distress.
Neglecting your spirituality
Spiritual depression might also develop when you have less time for God and your usual religious activities, such as prayer, Bible study, or worship and other church participation. Some religious teachings suggest this often happens as a result of becoming overly involved in so-called worldly cares, such as work, hobbies and entertainment, or social activities.
It’s perfectly normal to spend time on any of these activities. Life should be balanced, and it’s healthy to divide your time between work, rest, family and friends, and enjoyable relaxation.
That said, if spirituality is an important aspect of your life and day-to-day concerns leave you with less and less time for God, you could find yourself feeling somewhat low.
When you see pain and suffering around you, either in your immediate life or other parts of the world, you might begin to question why God puts people through grief, misery, and distress.
Experiencing a personal loss or hardship can also leave you with feelings of anger, confusion, and doubt.
This uncertainty, no matter its cause, can leave you feeling distanced from God, even forsaken. You might begin to wonder about existential concepts, including:
- the meaning of suffering
- your life purpose
- the existence of a higher power
As you wrestle with these thoughts, you might feel somewhat ambivalent about your spirituality and find yourself simply going through the motions of worship or prayer.
Existential thoughts can also factor into depression and leave you going through the motions of everyday life without any real interest.
Facing problems and difficulties might lead you to consider how your own actions contributed to those concerns. You might then begin to explore possible ways to address them.
Some amount of self-examination can yield insight into choices that might prove more helpful in the future. And of course, taking steps to find solutions to your problems is never a bad way forward.
Still, spending a prolonged amount of time ruminating on what you consider your flaws and failings, or endlessly cycling through deeper fears you can’t easily resolve, may just increase your distress.
Working to identify possible causes of spiritual depression in your life can help you begin making changes that ease feelings of distress and uncertainty.
Know, though, that it’s not always easy, or even possible, to understand where spiritual depression comes from. These feelings often stem from several factors. Major depression can also develop (or intensify) without any specific causes or triggers.
All the same, you can absolutely work to overcome spiritual depression even when you aren’t sure of the cause.
If you’re a Christian, you’ve likely learned to place your faith in God in times of distress. Sometimes this trust alone can offer a path toward resolving feelings of spiritual depression.
Positive self-talk is another commonly suggested solution.
Using verbal reminders or a daily journal, you might try:
- reminding yourself of your positive strengths
- encouraging yourself to trust in God
- reaffirming your belief that God has a plan for you
- listing several ways you work to live out your values and beliefs
- exploring what you’ve learned from past mistakes and how they’ve helped you become a better person
It’s not unusual to feel haunted by past mistakes, especially if you’ve caused someone pain.
Yes, it’s important to apologize and attempt to make amends. But it’s also important to forgive yourself, and learning from your mistake can play a significant role here.
Sharing feelings of depression with your faith leader can also be a good way to get some additional guidance.
When spiritual exploration doesn’t promote any deeper understanding or relief from symptoms, it may be time to connect with a therapist.
Fear of stigma often complicates the process of seeking support. You might have some concerns over what your church might think about depression, or worry that a therapist might fail to grasp what Christianity means to you.
Keep in mind, though, that depression can have a serious impact on overall well-being, and symptoms usually persist without professional treatment. In other words, prayer and spiritual study may not relieve your distress on their own.
A therapist can offer guidance and support with:
- identifying possible causes or triggers of depression
- exploring potential treatments and coping strategies
- self-help and self-care strategies
- uncovering any possible links between spiritual beliefs and depression
You might prefer to work with someone of your faith, someone who truly understands both your mental health symptoms and spiritual concerns. That’s completely understandable.
Plenty of trained mental health professionals are also Christians, and many licensed practitioners specialize in faith-based counseling. Even those who don’t practice a specific faith may be perfectly willing to explore religious and spiritual concerns alongside depression.
Finding a therapist who supports your beliefs
- Check therapist directories or try a quick internet search for “Christian therapists” or “spiritual counseling.”
- Look for therapists who specialize in religious issues and spirituality as well as depression.
- Make sure any therapists you’re considering have a license to provide mental health services. Sticking to therapist directories or recognized organizations like the American Psychological Association or American Psychiatric Association can help you find trained, certified therapists.
- When requesting an appointment, share any spiritual concerns along with symptoms of depression. A good therapist will let you know if they don’t think they’re a good fit — and they may be able to recommend a colleague who can help you.
- Talk to your faith leader about depression symptoms. Religious communities increasingly work with mental health professionals to connect people in need with support, so they may be able to recommend a therapist.
Connecting with a healthcare professional is typically the best option when any symptoms, including feelings of depression or concerns about spirituality, begin to affect:
- daily responsibilities
- energy and motivation
- personal relationships
- physical health
Reconnecting with your faith and strengthening your relationship with God may help resolve spiritual unease.
Depression, however, can’t be cured through prayer alone. Depression symptoms will likely linger, or even get worse, without professional treatment.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.