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Coping with anxiety and depression

August 31, 2017
Father Ed Dougherty, MM

Anxiety and depression are common problems today. A sense of isolation tends to heighten these problems, yet it seems the more advanced society becomes, the more it is a challenge for people to stay connected in meaningful ways. Mother Teresa said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love.”

The Christopher News Note titled “Mental Illness: Healing the Unseen Wounds” addresses the modern dimensions of anxiety and depression. It tells the story of David Mandani, whose mental illness led him to start an organization that provides free mental health resources. David found help for his own problems through the use of medication and other therapies, but he also credits his faith with sustaining him. He says, “Because I entrusted my life and my disease to Jesus, so many of the predictions people said to me never happened. I was told I would never finish college, but God gave me the grace to complete graduate school. I was told I’d never hold down a job, but God gave me a vision and purposeful ministry. I was told I should never get married or even have kids, but God gave me three big blessings, a loving wife and two incredible kids.”

Faith can provide a beacon of hope in the darkest times and can help us remember that we are called to pursue health of mind and body so that we can better serve God and others. In his book “Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones: Spiritual Answers to Psychological Questions,” Father Benedict Groeschel highlights the importance of realizing God’s love for us, writing, “If I tried to link the struggle for mental health with the struggle for holiness, I would say it is most clearly seen in the terrible battle against self-hate in the depths of the soul. Once the chain of self-hate is broken, the individual becomes free to love others, to be generous, to escape from his own darkness. This is part of the mystery of God’s love. God has first loved us; let us begin now to love Him.”

Discovering God’s love can help us form better connections with people, and this creates an environment for healing during times of trial. We can also look to the saints for intercession and as a model for healing. St. Francis of Assisi coped with feelings of depression and self-hate by plunging himself into service to the poor, the sick and the outcast. During adolescence, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton experienced depression and even thoughts of suicide, but she coped by finding joy in music, keeping a journal, and immersing herself in the gift of nature at the seashore. St. Dymphna suffered great angst due to traumatic circumstances in her life, and she is the patron saint for sufferers of anxiety and depression.

St. Padre Pio’s motto was “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” What a simple yet profound insight from a saint who battled the mental anguish that came from bearing the stigmata as well as the persecution that arose from his condition. Prayer keeps us grounded in God’s love, which gives us hope to make the world around us a better place. And when we immerse ourselves in this mission, what need is there for worry? As Christ says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).

Maryknoll Father Edward Dougherty, a former superior general of Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, is a member of The Christophers board of directors. The mission of The Christophers is to encourage people of all ages, and from all walks of life, to use their God-given talents to make a positive difference in the world.

For free copies of the Christopher News Note “Mental Illness: Healing the Unseen Wounds,” write The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004, or mail@christophers.org.

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