I have asked people battling depression, “what do you feel during the worst moments of depression?” They have confided in me: “I feel like I am disappearing from the world,” “my body weighs a ton,” “I’m in painful despair,” “all is dark,” and “I feel like I am suffocating.” One feeling seems to unify these terrible experiences, a terrifying sense of self-vanishing.
During my depression, I lay on a couch immobilized. Inside a cocoon, I remained for weeks estranged from the world. I did not talk for extended periods. I barely ate. I slept as a way of escaping pain. I dwelled in an endless quarantine. I experienced a feeling of disintegration blended with overwhelming loneliness within me.
Fortunately, a few simple words can breach the wall that exiled us from humanity. Though I had prayed for decades, I felt uttering my most meaningful prayer during my first psychiatric E.R hospitalization. In a manic state, I was “dumped” into a small empty room of barren walls, with no door and a lonely thin plastic blue mattress in the middle. I paced back and forth in the confounding space like a trapped animal, ready to smash my head against the walls. Suddenly, I realized that it was Friday night. The Sabbath was coming. I kneeled on the mattress and began singing the Psalms, imagining the voice of Jews in thousands of synagogues signing beautiful melodies. I began praying with a devotion I had never experienced. I was not alone anymore. After the prayers, I felt a deep serenity, lay on the plastic surface, and slept in complete peace.
Marilyn Baetz,Rudy Bowen, Glenn Jones, and Tulay Koru-Sengul, conducted a study on the impact of worship attendance based on the 2002 Canadian Community Health Service survey, which obtained data from 37,000 individuals ages 15 years or older. The study concluded that higher worship frequency was associated with lower odds of psychiatric disorders. The study confirmed an association between worship and lower depression, anxiety, social phobia, and substance disorders. (1)
In my research, I have read hundreds of studies by the most reliable institutes confirming the positive power of prayer on mental health.
How does Prayer Work?
Prayer works against depression because at the very moment we utter a word of praise or supplication, the transcendent pierces the solitude of the oppressed Self. It does not matter if we get an answer to our prayer. The very attempt to explore hope is healing.
Prayer fights depression because it silences the powerful negative voice that tortures us. It replaces self-deprecation with a moment of longing, of expectation. It does not matter if the prayer is traditional or a spontaneous outpouring of the soul. Any prayer entails an act of rebellion against paralysis. It empowers us. It is a declaration of a possible future.
Write your prayers or choose a prayer from your tradition and have it ready as a war hymn against depression.
In the words of American author Julia Cameron
Differently from the assumed, the payer is not about certainty and results but is an invitation to the unexpected. It is an exercise in the art of possibilities. And that’s what we crave most during a depression. When all seems narrow and predetermined, payer becomes our soul telescope fragmenting our constrains. It does not matter if we reach the stars. What counts is the realization that there is a cosmos.
Don’t be embarrassed to pray. Don’t analyze your longing for the transcendent or infinite, either outside or in the depth of your spirit. Take the prayer spiritual risk.
As the theologian and activist Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, prayer is not a monologue. When you pray, you are not alone. I can’t think of a better gift when depression knocks on our doors than stretching beyond the Self into the expanse of Being. With a prayer on your lips, you unbuckle the belts of the straightjacket of depression. You utter words that fly, your Self attached to it.
- Marilyn Baetz, Rudy Bowen, Glenn Jones, and Tulay Koru-Sengul, (2006). What spiritual values and worship attendance relate to psychiatric disorders in the Canadian population, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol 51, No 10, 654-661.