Almost everyone experiences depression or sadness at some time in life. Depression is a pervasive affective state that is experienced by individuals as they undergo challenges, loss, frustrations, and changes in everyday life. Most people, at some point, experience a loss of a loved one, encounter difficulties, or are placed in a position to care for a loved one with a life-long disability. For many individuals, this state is brief, but for others, it may be more of a long-term situation. The DSM-5 notes that when experienced at extremes and for sustained periods of time, this affective state ceases to demonstrate utility and becomes disruptive to an individual’s life, engendering distress and preventing the achievement of adequate social, occupational, and educational success.
Interventions known to treat depression include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and SSRI medication. Spiritual wellness is one protective factor in depression that does not receive enough attention.
Spirituality has been defined in many different ways in psychological literature. For the purpose of this article, spirituality is defined as a broad concept that represents an individual’s private beliefs and values. It is the awareness of a transcendent force beyond the material world that instills a sense of wholeness and connectedness to a larger universe.
Spiritual wellness is how we conceptualize the key aspects of spirituality. Spiritual wellness represents the openness to the spiritual dimension that permits the integration of one’s spirituality with the other dimensions of life, thus maximizing the potential for growth and self-actualization. Spiritual wellness includes the components of meaning and purpose in life, inner resources, transcendence, and positive interconnectedness (Westgate, 1996; Briggs, 2000 & Howden, 1992). These four components of spiritual wellness promote healthy emotional functioning and serve to buffer the onset of depression.
Meaning and Purpose
Finding meaning and purpose in life is regarded as an innate human need and the motivating force behind living (Frankl, 1959). Meaning and purpose in life is defined as the process of searching or engaging in events or relationships that promote self-worth, hope, and reasons for living. This process also includes engaging in personal experiences that are unique to each individual in specific ways that change throughout time and across situations.
In analyzing the multitude of patients he treated, Carl Jung stated that each “fell ill because he lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook”.
Jung was among the first to attest to the vital role a spiritual life plays in overcoming depression and overall psychological dysfunction. Developing a deep meaning and purpose in life is instrumental for psychological health. Living a purposeful existence allows us to transcend life’s obstacles and enables us to move forward with a clearly defined purpose. This purpose guides us in times of turmoil and enables us to rise above our doldrums from perspective-taking and a commitment to a greater meaning.
Inner resources refer to using an internal orientation to discover our identity, wholeness, and empowerment. It also refers to knowing and relying on our inner strengths and becoming resilient. Resiliency is at the heart of overcoming challenges with strength and determination.
The precursor to becoming resilient is competency. Competency is the capability to apply or use a set of related knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform a task. It is developed by pushing just beyond the limit of our capabilities and comfort zone. Through this process, we learn to take personal responsibility for our actions and emotional wellness. Through competency, we learn how to persevere through challenges. This promotes determination and resolve, which are essential tenets of resiliency.
Using our inner resources, resiliency enables us to cope in spite of setbacks, barriers, and limited resources. It provides an emotional backbone. It is the toughness that mediates our ability to persevere.
Transcendence is the progression and culmination of rising above the self and relating to that which is greater than the self. Simply stated, transcendence involves the recognition that we are one small part of a greater whole, and then to act accordingly for the greater good.
The quintessential example of transcendence is Victor Frankl’s immense personal suffering during the Holocaust of World War II. In his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl illustrates how he was able to transcend his great personal suffering through the attainment of meaning and purpose. Victor Frankl’s message is one of optimism, faith, and finding meaning even in the most tragic circumstances. He believed that man has the capacity and responsibility to choose his own attitude and actions based on his own inner purpose.
Transcending our personal challenges through the development of purpose and meaning, all the while, to serve for the greater good of society, enables us to live with a healthy mindset, immunizing us to the onset of depressive thoughts.
Positive interconnectedness is defined as a healthy sense of relatedness to self, others, and all life. Positive interconnectedness also involves the feeling of being connected to others, being connected to a group, and having specific ideas about ways to interact with others. It may include belonging to a spiritual community of shared values and support.
Psychologists have long understood the power of social connectivity. We all have a need for support in times of crisis and suffering. Participation in meaningful groups promotes the development of close interpersonal connections. These connections create a sense of belonging and instill individual responsibility to the greater good of others. Positive interconnectedness is a powerful, actionable endeavor we can all take to promote emotional wellness and thwart depression.
- Briggs, G. (2000). Spiritual wellness and depression among college students. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 62, 2034.
- Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. New York: Washington Square Press.
- Howden, J.W. (1992). Development and psychometric characteristics of the Spirituality Assessment Scale. Dissertation Abstracts International, 54, 166.
- Jung, C.G. (1933). Modern Man in Search of Soul. New York: Hatcourt-Brace.
- Westgate, C.E. (1996). Spiritual wellness and depression. Journal of Counseling and Development, 75, 26-35.
About the Author: Joseph Graybill, Ph.D is an American Psychologist, licensed in New York. He is the psychologist at the Anglo-American School in Moscow and maintains an online clinical practice. He can be contacted at https://www.psychologyforward.com
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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