Is depression a soul ailment?

The UK national health service identifies the following as signs of depression – Loss of identify and self-esteem. Sadness, when there is maybe nothing to feel sad about. Extreme guilt over minor matters. A sense of failure, when this is not realistic. Loneliness, even among other people. Tearfulness, when there is nothing to cry about. Constant exhaustion. Feelings of hopelessness, misery or despair. Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions. Thoughts of death or suicide.

To help people recover, it encourages sufferers to be more socially active, less judgmental about ourselves, and to participate in more things that make us happy.  There’s an underpinning assumption that if there’s no apparent external source of unhappiness, it’s a cognitive-behavioral glitch to fix. I have no doubt that for many people, this is entirely workable.

So what happened when I think about this as a pagan and a Druid? I look at the list of symptoms, and think about our relationship with the planet. My relationship. The world I live in doesn’t make much sense to me and is driven by values I neither like nor respect. How can I be myself in a context like that? Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be any room for who I am and how I want to live. I feel sad and I’ve carried that for a long time. Sad about the human suffering in the world, animal extinctions, loss of beautiful places, climate change. I don’t know how it’s possible to live in this world and not feel sad, unless you undertake to be carefully oblivious to what’s happening everywhere, all the time. Extreme guilt – how can I not be conscious of my carbon footprint and what my existence costs other life forms? A sense of failure… I look at the world I live in, and I do not feel good about it. Loneliness, because there is so much around me that feels alien and wrong, how can I feel connected? Tearfulness – when is there not something to cry about? How can I not mourn what I see? Constant exhaustion – that goes with lack of inspiration for me, which is a soul ailment and goes with all of the above stuff. Hopelessness, misery and despair – I challenge anyone who is paying attention not to feel this way. Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions – the more aware you are, the more readily you can see the flaws and failings in every available option. Choosing becomes bigger and harder. Thoughts of death and suicide… aware that the planet would benefit enormously from the absence of humans.

Is depression irrational? No it isn’t. Is it an inevitable consequence of being more aware? Possibly. Does that mean it is insurmountable and that anyone who cannot tune out reality is doomed to abject misery?


We have to choose otherwise.

No one single person is going to be able to put all to rights. One single person’s contribution isn’t going to make that much direct odds in the scheme of things. But if you are soul sick, disconnected and in pain, you can either try and find a new way to blot that out (learn a new skill, the doctors recommend) or you can see about fixing it in a deeper way.

Depression is a sickness of realization. The cure is not jumping back into the oblivion pool where most people are still quietly drowning themselves. The cure is action, and making things better. The process of wake up and realization is painful, but we need more people waking up, not more means to drug and befuddle ourselves into not noticing.

11 thoughts on “Is depression a soul ailment?”

  1. I agree with everything you say here, but… sometimes the drug is necessary. Without antidepressants, I can’t manage to deal with the problems. At the bottom, I feel only hopelessness- and sometimes take the easiest way out, rather than the thoughtful way. With the meds, I can face the problems and format strategies to deal with them.

    I admit some people take the drugs so as to not notice the problems, but not all of us.


  2. Laurie, there are times I’ve had to use the meds too, just to regain enough control to be able to manage. Sometimes that has to be done. Whatever it takes to get through. But its recognising that the widely held ‘proper’ solution – just tune out all the bad stuff and ignore it – is no solution at all. If you’re problem solving, by whatever means, you aren’t ignoring things. Go you.


  3. I have been criticized for having lack of awareness and being oblivious to the suffering and evil in the world. The fact of the matter is, I am completely aware. I believe that we have choices to be happy or sad. I believe that our human lives are very short and we should do whatever we can to make ourselves feel good as well as give love to all things including food, air, water, sunshine, friends, teachers, nurses, etc.. I don’t believe that any negative feelings can lift your spirits. We need to pay attention to the things we love and be grateful and in turn that energy will spread to others. Do you agree?


    1. I have to agree Karin, sometimes it is stepping back to take a look at your inner self and the things which can help make your own world a better and more pleasant place to be. How can you possibly tackle the larger things that matter to us if we can not be at peace with ourselves first.


  4. I should also say that I am not saying that depression doesn’t exist as an illness. That was not my intention and I know that people DO suffer from that. I was just suggesting a different frequency of thinking when someone feels bad. That’s all!


  5. Karin, I agree heartily. The things you talk about as ‘feel good’ are REAL and about celebrating what is beautiful and precious in this life, not about self-anesthetism. No, negatvity cannot lift the spirit. In celebrating what is truly good and meaningful, in reaching for it – that’s where we can make the difference, do something for the good. I know this blog needs a follow up, a not-depression – I’m just not ready to write it yet.


  6. Lovely article and I’m all in favour of celebrating life’s blessings. However – sometimes depression just comes, whether there’s an apparent reason for it or not. I believe that chemical, genetic and personality traits play a big part. The worst thing you can say to a depressed person is, “What have you got to be depressed about?” All I’m saying is that, if someone is feeling low, we shouldn’t judge them. They may appear to have everything in the world going for them – but no one knows what’s really happening underneath the surface.


  7. A very good point Amber. Sometimes I think we should be looking at it the other way – because depression is a very natural reaciton to the state of the world and the reality of being human. Asking people why they are happy, might be far more productive. Not with a view to challenging it, but because it might be helpful to know!


  8. ‘Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity. Some consider it a dysfunction, while others see it as an adaptive defense mechanism. ..’

    Having worked amongst people with varying degrees of depression it is generally something much closer to home that triggers it off and in most cases something that another person could shrug off. The state of the world would not generally have any place in the mind of the depressed person. ‘I dont know’ would be the answer to ‘why are you ‘not’ happy’.( I guess this is what you meant, not why they are happy?)


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