Religion can beat depression

| 23/05/2012

(CNS): People who are religious and have strong community support are more likely to beat depression than those who do not pray or attend religious activities. Rev Guillermo Escalona, Director of Pastoral Education with Baptist Health South Florida, speaking at this week’s Nurses Conference, said pastoral care of those with depression is vital, because the disease is closely connected with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease, all of which were diseases associated with depression. Chronic conditions worsened the symptoms of depression while depression was often brought on by chronic disease, he said. 

Human beings get depressed if they are isolated. People are wired for community, he said.

Depression, Rev Escalona said, was prevalent in the United States, with almost half the population showing signs of psychiatric disorders and 5.4 per cent suffering from severe mental illness.  Out of the 46 per cent of Americans suffering from psychiatric disorders, only 50 per cent got the care they needed. In addition, Rev Escalona told the delegates of nurses and other medical professionals who had gathered at the three dayconference, held at the Marriott Beach Resort, that 50 per cent stopped taking their anti-depressants after just three months.

Those that undertook spiritual practices such as meditation and prayer showed lower signs of psychopathology.

“It has a positive effect on the biochemistry of the brain,” he confirmed.

The reverend continued: “Depression is like falling into a deep pit with slippery sides which you cannot get out of. The feelings you get of hopelessness and despair are beyond comprehension. Even death may become attractive.”

Underscoring just how common depression was in the US, he said that seven out of ten visits to the doctor were due to chronic disease and such diseases affected the mobility and independence of the sufferer and had the ability to curtail activities that patients once enjoyed.

“It changes the way you live and the way you see yourself with others,” he said.

Having a heart attack was the chronic condition most likely to trigger depression, with 40 to 65 per cent of heart attack victims succumbing to depression.  Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease sufferers also were commonly diagnosed with depression, at around 40 per cent, while 25 per cent of diabetes and cancer sufferers developing depression.

In a vicious cycle, while chronic disease could lead to depression, depressive disorders could worsen chronic disease symptoms, he said.

Social isolation among the elderly increased the occurrence of depression as high rates of isolation created stress which led to mental health issues.

“Studies have shown that human beings are wired for community,” he confirmed. 

Risk factors for the elderly included living alone, not belonging to a religious or community group, activity limitations and a lack of friends or family for emotional support.

“I know of instances where elderly people have called the emergency services just to have someone to talk to and to listen to them,” he said.

Screening elderly patients for depression was important because 20 per cent of those who committed suicide visited their doctor on the day they died, 40 per cent visited their doctor within the week before and 70 per cent did so during the month prior to their death. 69 per cent of those diagnosed with depression went to the doctor presenting physical symptoms only.

Rev Escalona spoke about spiritual planning for retirement being just as important as financial planning and gave ways in which people could improve this area of their lives, such as getting positive thoughts into their consciousness, journaling prayers and practicing spiritual disciplines, especially those that countered a depressive mindset, such as thankfulness, worship and celebration.

Studies had found that people were more prone to depression if they were “spiritual but not religious”, he said. The difference was that religion required interaction with others. Depression patients who attended religious services took a shorter time in remission, he said.

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