Religion as a cure for depression

Jackie Costa Ribeiro

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The power of beliefs helps depression

“Art, religion and faith, for me, are the cure for any evil of the mind”, states Fabrine Velloso Maselli. Ms. Maselli is a 40-year-old Brazilian woman who is currently living in Dublin. Most who meet her may not realise it, but she has been in a constant struggle, since childhood, with depression and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

Ms. Maselli at prayer in her local church, St. Mary of the Angels, in Dublin. She confides in God to help relieve her depression. Photo credit: Luiza Serpa (undergraduate Photography student at Griffith College).

Ms. Maselli is the only daughter of a regular family with two other sons. She began her relationship with illness at the age of four when her depressed mother declared her wish to die.

There is no other way, I want to die! 

“There is no other way, I want to die,” her mother used to repeat constantly.

Ms. Maselli implored her mother not to leave her. This situation affected her emotionally, making her an insecure person, because she was very afraid of losing her mother. “I was very sensitive, everything shook me, everything was stronger and more intense. Since I was little I had the symptoms”, Ms. Maselli describes.

“One day I had a fever of 40 degrees but when the doctors examined me, they could not find anything wrong with me. After constant hospital visits, they started calling me Feverine” (a joining of the word fever with her name).

Ms. Maselli has had panic attacks since the age of eight. At this stage of her childhood, she frequently had episodes of anxiety disorder, such as going to school and immediately wanting to go home. These crises were often combined with crying, nausea, diarrhoea or even urinating in her clothes, showing the power of emotion in a complicated state.

As a child, Fabrine was reserved and shy. She did not like to leave home and was always close to her mother. Her anxiety disorder and her depression have had several different forms and symptoms. She used to be afraid to go to sleep for fear that she would not wake up again. At other times she could not stay in the dark. On occasion, she has had to call in desperation to neighbours for help, when she was terrified that she might be dying. Constantly, every day, she has gone through different stages of anguish.

Ms. Maselli was also afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), where she felt that she needed to clean her house constantly with alcohol to exterminate bacteria. As a teenager, she started dating, but every time she went on a date she had a panic attack, with a racing heartbeat and dizziness, which caused her to have a bad time. In her mind, she kept thinking that she was going to faint and die; she really did not understand what was going on.

At age 21, Fabrine consulted a cardiologist and the results were all clear. Afterwards, she decided to see a psychologist, which is when her treatment using antidepressant drugs began. Drugs of the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) class, such as Rivotril, Ocadium, Chloridate and Paroxetine became a part of her life.

Her first indication that spirituality could be a support for depression and life’s difficulties was through her cousin. After complications in her life, she found that religion could be the pathway to change and happiness. At age 23, Ms. Maselli, took a big step in moving away from her family and trying psychological treatment in Rio de Janeiro. There she also began to be more religious, while being away from her family.

After a number of years, Ms. Maselli decided to stop taking medication and instead, to continue talk-therapies and every Sunday to go to Catholic Mass.

Art, religion and faith, for me, are the cure for any evil of the mind.

“Art, religion and faith, for me, are the cure for any evil of the mind”, Ms. Maselli states. This later encouraged her to study photography in Rio de Janeiro.

“I did not have a life in my home city, it was nonsense,” says Ms. Maselli. The art of photography was like a therapy for Ms. Maselli and it greatly helped her. As she declares: “Photography explores the sensitivity that we see through our eyes, giving us the freedom to subjectify and objectify our feelings, thoughts and emotions. It helps to create a relationship of deep intimacy between ourselves and the world”.

After Ms. Maselli’s photography course, she returned to her home city. However, without art and religion, her problems returned and her life went on without purpose. So, she decided to visit local churches and explore different religions. In the end, she found that the Catholic religion suited her best and, to confirm her faith, she decided to undergo the sacrament of Confirmation.

Could it be that religion can relieve depression in many people? A recent study from Columbia University suggests that this could be the case, especially among those genetically at risk. Thinner cortexes on the mesial wall of the left hemisphere in the human brain have for some time been associated with a hereditary predisposition to depression. In this particular study of 103 participants, both with and without depression, researchers used MRI scans to take anatomical measurements of cortical thicknesses in the participants’ brains and found that “spiritual importance” had a strengthening effect in those who were at high risk of depression. This study adds to growing literature on the correlation between the ability of spirituality and meditation to increase cortical thickness.

Nowadays, Ms. Maselli lives in Dublin, where she is an active member of St. Mary of the Angels Catholic church. She declares that her depression is healed. She states that it is a constant struggle every day, but she has found comfort and healing in religion. She participates in a rosary group called Catholics in Dublin on Tuesdays, she takes part in Adoration on Thursdays and she attends mass on Sundays.  As Matthew 28:20 states “and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the World”.

Religion as a cure for depression appears to be related to belief. For many people, spirituality and religion may have the power to act as supports to conquer life’s difficulties, including depression. “The Lord be with you”, the priest declares during Mass in St. Mary of the Angels Catholic church. “And with your spirit”, those gathered reply. ⋆

The church that Ms. Maselli attends:

Church of St. Mary of the Angels, 137-142 Church St, Dublin 7. Phone: (01) 873 0599

Catholics in Dublin Group web page: https://www.facebook.com/Cat%C3%B3licos-Em-Dublin-823164301086286

The following are some useful links for those seeking help or advice for dealing with mental health:

Samaritans in Ireland: https://www.samaritans.org

Suicide and Self Harm Crisis Centre – Pieta House: http://www.pieta.ie

Phone and online support: http://www.yourmentalhealth.ie/supports-services/types-of-services/access-directly/phone-online/

Social Anxiety Ireland | Social Phobias & Social Anxiety Disorder: http://socialanxietyireland.com/

 

References

Miller L, Bansal R, Wickramaratne P, Hao X, Tenke CE, Weissman MM, & Peterson BS (2014). Neuroanatomical correlates of religiosity and spirituality: a study in adults at high and low familial risk for depression. JAMA Psychiatry, 71 (2), 128-35 PMID: 24369341.

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Jackie Costa Ribeiro

Jaqueline Costa Ribeiro, was born in Itapevi, Brazil in 1984. She graduated from the Bandeirante University of São Paulo (UNIBAN) with a degree in Technology in Radio and TV Management in 2008 and a postgraduate diploma in Television Communication Studies in 2010. Currently, she is living in Dublin and undertaking a Masters in Journalism and Media Communications at Griffith College.