Faith in God Helps People Cope with Depression

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Faith in God helps people cope with depression.

The objective is not to overcome depression, but to learn how to live in and through depression says Father Michael Hoyt, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel parish in Indianapolis, who offered a recent workshop on depression and spirituality.

Hoyt, who suffers from depression and helps counsel others who struggle with it, said it is in our brokenness that we are able to taste the goodness and love of God and receive love from other people.

Depression affects Eight Percent of the US population

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) affects eight percent of the population in the United States and those affected by it come from every walk of life, income level and age group. Hoyt said it’s the most common and pervasive of mental illnesses. People who suffer from depression exhibit both mental and physical symptoms including feelings of guilt, insufficiency, sadness, loneliness, a sense of worthlessness, and lack of interest in things they typically would enjoy.

Physical symptoms include changes in sleep patterns, eating, anxiety, activity level, or social isolation. And Hoyt says one’s mental ability is impacted too. Persons with depression may have trouble concentrating or processing information. Suicidal thoughts emerge as a very common symptom among those diagnosed with clinical depression.  Sixty percent of persons whose death was caused by suicide had depression.

People suffering with depression often feel their lives are meaningless. “It is capital people with depression find something that provides meaning and they investigate it,” says Hoyt. “From a Christian standpoint, finding meaning in our lives is about discovering a life with Jesus. When we discover a relationship with Jesus, we realize we are not alone,” he said. “Jesus is continually inviting us into a deeper relationship with Him. We can learn from Him our purpose. Why we were created. The purpose of the Christian is to be in communion with Jesus,” said Hoyt.  Holding-up  a bible, Hoyt added, “The words of Jesus are right here. In the Gospels, we can discover who Jesus is.”

Jesus Pushed the Envelope

When we read the Gospel’s we should be fascinated by Jesus,” said the Indianapolis pastor. “We should be in awe of Him. He pushed every social, religious and cultural norm. He created a revolution of love. He did so to bring all of us truth about our existence.” Quoting St. Augustine, Hoyt said, ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.’”

Speaking from personal experience and his educational background of social work and theology, Hoyt explained that depression comes from our value judgments and self-assessments which are based on a negative self-image.  “One of the things I like most about being a priest is being used as an instrument by God to convey a most important message that Jesus loves you.” Hoyt added, “People who are feeling depression need to challenge false beliefs of a negative self- image and to know they are loved by Jesus.” Hoyt said another aspect of Christianity that helps those with depression is the discovery and deepening of the image of God as the Good Shepherd.

Experiencing transcendence allows persons to find happiness and fulfillment.  People often say they are most fulfilled when they are really engaged with other people or helping others. When people move outside themselves they find fulfillment said Hoyt.  Persons suffering from depression can’t be in transcendental relationship if they are stuck in a “me-centered, bottomless pit”, said Hoyt. “Depression brings about so much guilt, and plunges a person into self-preoccupation,” he said.  “A person cannot consider the needs of others when they are so preoccupied with self.”

Spirituality: Practicing Mindfulness makes the Difference

Mindfulness, a practice of the eastern world for over a thousand years, allows a person be aware and available to the simple things in life in that present moment of time. Depression causes a person to be disengaged. Hoyt said, mindfulness requires “receptivity”, and engagement in the things and people around us. Mindfulness can bring about healing.  Hoyt talked about his mother’s friend who had gone through a divorce and her grief had turned into depression. One way she was able to practice mindfulness and healing was to watch the birds in her yard. It was a very simple activity, said Hoyt, but brought her peace and restoration.

The Catholic Faith offers Tools to help in Depression

Hoyt said that our Catholic faith offers us opportunities to be mindful and engaged with other people. “Eucharistic Adoration can be an opportunity to practice mindfulness,” said Hoyt, “and our adoration need not only take place while we are in the chapel, but can continue throughout the day.”

Being part of a parish community also provides meaningful support from others who share common beliefs. Hoyt pointed out that attending Mass can be a powerful support system, or connection. Service and ministry groups offer sources for meaning, purpose and social support as well he added.

Karen Clement, who attended the workshop, said her take away from Father Hoyt’s talk is when people face depression or troubles in life, people should take a look at the Gospels. “That’s where we should turn for answers and support as well as to other people,” said Clement.

Barb Gryna, said Father Hoyt’s talk reminded her “You have to be rooted in your own identity as a child of God.  The world is always going lie about who you are and create a false identity for you. One must be rooted in truth, rooted in Jesus.”


Brigid Curtis Ayer is a freelance writer, and a correspondent for The Catholic Moment, the diocesan newspaper for the Diocese of Lafayette-In-Indiana.

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