Spirituality to Combat Depression and Find Meaning

Young man and his dog canoeingThe term “spiritual bankruptcy” is a word used in the rooms of 12-step programs to characterize addicts who have lost their connection to “higher power.” One dictionary definition describes spiritual bankruptcy as “a state of complete lack of some abstract property.” Recently, I’ve been pondering what I believe “spiritual bankruptcy” means and how it appears in the people I know personally and treat in my practice.

If I were to think of the personal qualities of someone who seems to be spiritually bankrupt, what comes to mind is despair. The spiritually bankrupt person cannot envision a future different from the present. The spiritually bankrupt person has lost his/her moral compass and makes poor choices. The spiritually bankrupt person is self-absorbed and often oblivious of the effects of his/her actions on others.

As I write this, these qualities are sounding an awful lot like how I would describe someone who is deeply depressed. And I also wonder, what’s chicken and what’s egg. Does someone become depressed because he/she is spiritually bankrupt or is it the other way around?

People become depressed for many reasons including genetics, life circumstances and temperament (sensitivity). Can we say that a person who has faith and is deeply spiritual will never become depressed? That faith and being spiritually grounded will always be the antidote to depression?

I’m not so sure. But what I do know is that those who have faith, who are connected to the God of their understanding, who have a relationship with a higher power do recover from bouts of depression faster and more completely.

The reasons for this I believe are that a spiritually connected person knows somewhere in the depths of his/her being that the depression is temporary, an aberration as opposed to a constant and permanent state of being. The spiritually connected person can look at the depression as holding value for him/her, perhaps in the form of some opportunity for deeper understanding of self and life.

In other words, the spiritually grounded person may not succumb to the same level of despair or lack of hope that someone without a spiritual connection might.

In my particular faith (Yoruba), we believe each individual has a destiny and it is his/her obligation to fulfill that destiny. Everything is part of it, including sadness, pain and even depression. Depression is not viewed as punishment for wrong doing or as some moral failure. Knowing that can be a strong hedge against losing that connection to higher power. It is a hedge against the sort of spiritual bankruptcy I started out describing in paragraph one.

We must each find our own spiritual path. Our beliefs can take many forms. We can be a part of many different spiritual and religious communities. But one thing all religions and spiritual paths have in common is the presence of the divine. A spiritual connection can help people feel a greater sense of fulfillment in life. The emphasis is on the “fill” in the word fulfillment. It is one of the best remedies for that deep-seated emptiness that many people feel. We as humans, by connecting to our spiritual selves, have the opportunity to compensate for what we never received in our families of origin and perhaps from society.

© Copyright 2011 by Kalila Borghini, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • carla rivas

    January 18th, 2011 at 3:45 PM

    a person with a lot of faith can become spiritually bankrupt too…I have seen this happen with my brother’s friend…he was a pious person who would Cairo the church often and always kept God in his mind…but suffering a job loss that virtually started his host of problems made him lose all his belief in God and today he is someone who does not even want to have a discussion on spirituality…

  • Barbara

    January 19th, 2011 at 5:49 AM

    I do not meant to sound too preachy but there are so many ways that a good church home can be of value and support to you. It is a network of people that you can count on through good times and bad.

  • Emma

    January 19th, 2011 at 8:33 PM

    Good article! When you have a spiritual connection, you have something to hold on to that lets you “keep the faith” as it were that change is just around the corner. I don’t go to church but I do believe in a higher power. How can I not? I just need to open my eyes in the morning and see a world is out there that I myself didn’t create, so something did. :)

  • Darryl

    January 19th, 2011 at 11:08 PM

    Kalila, you stated “In my particular faith (Yoruba), we believe each individual has a destiny and it is his/her obligation to fulfill that destiny.” Interesting. How do you go about discovering what your destiny is? Are there signs that we should be watching for? Or signs that signify we’re not doing so? What if your destiny isn’t something you would have chosen for yourself normally? Or what if we don’t fulfill it? I’m intrigued.

  • Davina

    January 20th, 2011 at 8:50 PM

    Is it possible to have that connection and lose it completely for good, Kalila? I feel that’s what’s happened to me. I used to meditate for hours every week and connect with my spirit guides so easily. It was like breathing to me, it came so naturally once I began seriously working on my spiritual development. Then I quit learning so much as other things in life took precedence, just mundane ordinary things in hindsight. I didn’t put the time into it anymore that I had been doing. I feel I’m now paying the price for letting my focus slide. Now, it’s hard to relax enough to meditate and just can’t get myself into “the zone” anymore. I feel bereft and don’t know what to do to get it back. It’s as if my guides have packed up and gone because I don’t feel them at all and just can’t tune in. Before it was as easy to me as it is to other people to pick up a phone. Even my spiritual teachers on this plane were surprised at how quickly I progressed. It felt like I was making up for lost time. Maybe I’m being punished for squandering that gift and being taught to appreciate it more. I feel healing was supposed to be my path and I missed my chance. My intuitive side is deathly quiet. Spiritual bankruptcy is a very apt description.

  • Simon

    January 21st, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    What if you are an atheist and don’t believe there’s such a thing as being spiritually bankrupt? Are you saying you are destined to lead an empty life? That doesn’t appear fair. Perhaps all we need is therapy from a human being, not God or some Higher Power in our lives, to be the best we can be.

  • Kalila Borghini

    January 22nd, 2011 at 5:29 AM

    Thanks readers for your comments and questions. I will try to address them. In terms of the Yoruba faith, we believe in divination. When we are initiated, we get an “Ita” which is a life reading. We also receive Itas at various points in our lives and can always go for spiritual readings. These readings are our guide to living. They give very specific as well as general advice. In addition, we can pray to our Ori (which is the word we use for our destiny) to show us the way (and hopefully we will listen when we get the information). Signs that we are not paying attention include things not going well. If we are aligned with our Ori, things will flow (although there will be lessons along the way). We are adviced to work in harmony with our Ori for the most successful life. If it is something we may not have chosen for ourselves, sometimes it is a matter of having faith that we don’t always know what is best. It’s a great leap sometimes. Also, there is always room for interpretation of the messages. That’s where communication with “higher power” and the advice of a good spiritual counselor and/or therapist can be very helpful.

    In terms of losing ones connection to Higher Power, I don’t personally believe it is lost forever. My sense of the divine (in whatever form you believe) is that it/they are very patient and just waiting for you to contact it/them. I’d suggest that you start slowly, just a few minutes a day and then build from there. Patience is critical and perhaps that is one of the lessons for you in the experiences you are having.

    I did not mean to imply that if you are an atheist you are doomed to an empty life. I would make a distinction between not believing there is a God which is how I would describe an atheist and someone who can still appreciate the presence of spirit (which can be found everywhere). You did not give enough information for me to see where you are coming from about that. I would also venture to say that many therapists are not only well-trained but also inspired when they work. There is an intuitive side to counseling that in my opinion has a spiritual quality about it. You may beg to differ on that one.

  • Stan B

    January 22nd, 2011 at 6:49 PM

    If losing your connection to God made you depressed, Sweden would have a depression rate far higher than 5%. That’s something I don’t like about 12-step programs. They push beliefs on you despite your current religion. You could be a devout Catholic who goes to church regularly, contributes to his neighborhood, donates generously to charity, loves his family regardless of how they are. But if he has an alcohol problem, doesn’t that automatically negate his connection to his beliefs? I feel you could really offend someone by saying that to them.

  • Darren

    January 23rd, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    Like you said, there are multiple ways to express spirituality, but some people are innately spiritual and some are steadfast atheists that don’t even believe in souls. But claiming that someone is spiritually bankrupt could be a hair trigger for a lot of people, especially the devout. Why would a therapist even discuss religion with someone they are counseling? Isn’t science more your arena?

  • Cynthia

    February 6th, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    Stan B., January 22, 2011, said, (concerning something he disliked about 12-step programs,) is that “They push beliefs on you despite your current religion.” My experience is quite the opposite of yours, Stan. On reading your statement, my first thought was: If you like every one you meet at a 12-step meeting, you are not going to enough meetings! Look for the similarities instead of the differences. Semanticly speaking, you were “painting with a very broad brush” by seemingly lumping ALL 12-step meetings together and then making a statement of your opinion that (these groups) “push beliefs on you despite your current religion.” Love and respect, Stan.

  • leroy

    August 1st, 2015 at 3:52 PM

    Im black…do i have a destiny?

  • Jessica

    July 30th, 2020 at 12:19 PM

    I am an atheist who absolutely does not believe in anything remotely resembling a spirit or soul. I believe in people, and proven things, and I believe that striving to be better and helpful and loving at all good because they make the overall world a better place for everyone. Does this make me spiritually bankrupt? Do I lack a moral compass because I don’t believe in things for which there are no evidence? I recognize that religion and spirituality can bring comfort and a sense of direction to some, but I don’t think it is required to be a moral person. And I think that treating people with that mindset alienates those who believe in things that are more concrete and don’t require a spiritual or religious booster. The assumption that spirituality = morality hurts us as a society. And the assumption that spirituality means you’re more likely to overcome depression has deeply hurt people I know who are both religious and incredibly depressed. They often feel as though there must be something wrong with them since religion is not curing their depression.

  • E

    February 26th, 2022 at 4:25 PM

    Very good article. So many people in need! Blessed Virgin Mother of God, Saint Joseph, and Jesus Christ, pray for us! 🙏🏼

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