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The Catholic Guide to Depression: Start Here

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 31, 2013 | In Reviews

If you’ve ever experienced even a little bit of prolonged depression, or you have a close friend or family member who has, you know how devastating depression can be. It is a growing problem in the modern world but, thankfully, there is enough understanding of it in our culture to avoid blaming those who suffer, and instead to seek appropriate help. I am going to guess that most readers of know that prayer, strong support, counseling and medication can all play important roles in helping someone overcome this disease.

But it is rare for just one of these alone to work. This is so because depression strikes the person at the intersection of body, mind, soul and relationships. The ill health of multiple facets of our being can contribute to depression, and serious attention to multiple facets is the best way to escape it. But at the same time, there can be prejudice and misunderstanding in evaluating treatment options. Just as some atheists and materialists may be willing to consider only various kinds of physiological therapies, such as medication, so too are some deeply religious people suspicious of both medicative and psychological therapies, which may seem to deny the spiritual nature of man. Moreover, everyone is concerned about potential long-term adverse side effects, especially with medication.

What is needed is a book, written in layman’s terms, by a highly-trained, experienced and committed Catholic psychiatrist. I mean a book which explains the nature of depression, explores its symptoms and dangers, covers the various treatments which can effectively address its components, cuts through the all-too-common hype, articulates the importance of a comprehensive approach, understands how the body, mind and spirit fit together in dealing with the problem, and bases everything it says not only on the latest and best studies but also on a deep and thorough understanding of human nature. Any Catholic who faces the pressing need of determining the right approach for himself or a family member would give half his kingdom for such a book.

Fortunately, the price is only fifteen bucks. I am referring to The Catholic Guide to Depression by Aaron Kheriaty, MD, recently published by the always reliable Sophia Institute Press.

If I were an expert in this field, I might wish to do a more thorough review of this book, but as a layman I am simply deeply impressed. Any further analysis I could offer would not help you make the right decisions in a matter which cannot be left to chance. Therefore, it is sufficient here for me to list the chapter titles:

Part I: Understanding Depression

  1. Types of Depression and Their Causes
  2. Depression and the Spiritual life
  3. Depression and Related Disorders
  4. Depression and the Tragedy of Suicide

Part II: Overcoming Depression

  1. Medication and Other Biological Treatments
  2. Psychotherapy: Its Benefits and Limitations
  3. Spiritual Help for Depression
  4. Divine Filiation and the Virtue of Hope

Appendices include resources for further reading, prayers in times of distress, and an address by Pope John Paul II on the theme of depression.

If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, you should of course immediately seek competent professional help. Get your pastor’s or your bishop’s recommendation of a highly-qualified, experienced Catholic practitioner with a good reputation in the field. But understanding and healing is a process requiring discernment and patience. That process will give you plenty of time to read this book so you can understand the nature of the problem, how it can be treated, and key factors to keep in mind. At the same time, Dr. Kheriaty will give you sound physical, psychological and spiritual reasons for hope—important reasons which will make it easier to stay a difficult course.

Again, if you face a dangerous situation, make that appointment with an experienced professional first. But begin your own study with Dr. Aaron Kheriaty’s Catholic Guide to Depression.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jun. 02, 2013 9:13 AM ET USA

    As a professional, I used to wonder about the incidence of "Catholic" depression, but no longer... Even the incidents historically among the Saints... Religion among the "more advanced" cultures, even Christianity, has become "systematized...," creating the potential for great gaps between "experienced psychic reality" and formalized practice... This desparity between "the formal" and internal and external perceived reality leads to ftustration and anger.

  • Posted by: - May. 31, 2013 7:33 PM ET USA

    Dr. Kheriaty's book is well worth reading -- it's especially good at describing the symptoms and experience of depression.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 31, 2013 5:04 PM ET USA

    I have wrestled with this dragon myself over the years, and depression may be the most debilitating type of pain there is. Saints (such as The Little Flower) have passed through its grip into the arms of Our Lord. I have little patience with people who say they are "too blessed to be depressed." That is not a Christian sentiment at all.