Information for Catholics Living with Depression

What Is Depression?
Depression is more than just the occasional sadness
 that many people experience from time to time. It is an illness characterized by persistent sadness, fatigue, and hopelessness that restricts a person’s ability to carry out their normal daily activities. It can contribute to relationship problems, physical pain, and illness.  The cause of depression may be biological, situational, or a combination of both. 

In any given year about 7% of adults, 2.5% of children, 8.5% of adolescents, and 15% of senior citizens will suffer from an episode of depression.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, you should know that depression is a serious condition which is very treatable and often curable.  Research indicates that a combination of therapy and medication often produces the best results.  It is almost impossible to think, wish, hope, or pray one’s way out of depression.

Two of the most common forms of depression are Major Depressive Disorder and Persistent Depressive Disorder. Major Depressive Disorder is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy activities that they once enjoyed. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally.  Persistent Depressive Disorder is characterized by long–term (two years or longer) but less severe symptoms that may not disable a person but can prevent one from functioning normally or feeling well.  People with Persistent Depressive Disorder may also experience one or more episodes of Major Depression during their lifetimes.

Other forms of depression include Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is characterized by the onset of a depressive illness during the winter months; bipolar disorder, in which depression alternates with periods of emotional highs; Post-Partum Depression, characterized by a major depressive episode one month after delivery; and Senior Depression, which is connected to the challenges of aging and occurs in about 15 percent of people over age 65.

What Can I Do?
Depression may or may not be accompanied by thoughts of suicide or the intention to commit suicide.   The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

If you have attempted or are preparing to commit suicide, call 9-1-1, check yourself into an emergency room, or call a suicide prevention hotline.

If you have thoughts about harming yourself or committing suicide, call a mental health professional immediately, or contact a suicide prevention hotline.

If you are suffering from acute, persistent, or occasional but recurring depression which prevents you from functioning normally in everyday life, you should contact your family physician, a mental health professional, or a local mental health organization. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provide referrals and a variety of educational programs and support groups.

Faith-based counseling services such as Catholic Charities can also provide counseling or referrals. Remember that a combination of therapy and medication have generally proven to be more effective in treating depression than either one on their own. Be cautious of accepting medication from any provider without consultation with a mental health professional; always ask about possible side-effects and other options if a provider suggests medication.

Depression and Faith
In an address to a Vatican conference on depression, Pope John Paul II noted that “depression is always a spiritual trial.”  He said people suffering from depression need help “to rediscover their self-esteem, confidence in their own abilities, interest in the future, [and] the desire to live.”  For them, “as for everyone else,” the Pope noted, “contemplating Christ means letting oneself be ‘looked at’ by him–an experience that opens one to hope and convinces one to choose life.”

In their 2018 pastoral letter “Hope and Healing,” the Catholic bishops of California acknowledged that mental illness “is a source of deep suffering for many.”  As Christians, the bishops wrote, “we believe that Christ’s suffering and death on the cross gives our anguish meaning” and “our Catholic faith does not promise a life free from suffering or affliction.”  For that reason, “We should not expect that prayer, Scripture reading, or the sacraments, will cure mental disorders or alleviate all emotional suffering.  While the Christian faith and the sacramental life of the Church offer us the hope and the spiritual strength to endure whatever suffering God permits, we recognize that not all afflictions can be avoided and not all illnesses can be cured.”

The bishops concluded: “We have the duty as Christians to reach out to the sick, to accompany them and to do all we can to heal or diminish their suffering.  As the body of Christ, we are called to help alleviate the burdens that stem from mental afflictions.”


Do you think you may be depressed or have anxiety go to this site and take a short mental health test:

Signs of Depression

Depression is a very real problem that a surprising number of people must deal with on a near-constant basis.

The World Health Organization estimates [1] that more than 264 million people suffer from depression around the world—that’s a lot of people struggling with difficult emotional responses to daily challenges and mood fluctuations over which they have little to no control.

It is very possible that some of your family or friends are also suffering from depression and could really use your help to lift them out of it. Below, we are going to look at ways to spot depression in those close to you, and what you can do about it.

How to Recognize the Signs of Depression

Depression is a chronic disease, one that typically lasts for more than just a few days and tends to recur, affecting sufferers on a regular basis. This means that people who are looking for symptoms of depression will typically be able to spot them.

Some of the signs that your friend or relative are stressed include [2] [3]:

  • Constant fatigue and tiredness
  • Poor sleep quality or regular sleep disturbances
  • Low-grade aches and pains
  • Depressed or low mood (which, surprisingly, is not always a common symptom)
  • Appetite gain or loss
  • Weight gain or loss, due to changing food intake
  • Increased drug and/or alcohol use to cope with feelings
  • Forced happiness, also known as “smiling depression”
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or activities previously enjoyed, as well as disinterest in pursuing future projects
  • Digestive problems
  • Decreased libido and lower sex drive
  • Headaches
  • Anger or irritability
  • Reckless or escapist behavior
  • Feelings of guilt or self-loathing

Studies have shown that people who suffer from depression, particularly the elderly, are more likely to also suffer from chronic health conditions like cancer, heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 Diabetes, and autoimmune conditions.

Risk Factors for Depression

There are a few known risk factors that raise a person’s probability of suffering from depression. These include [4]:

  • Health problems. Chronic medical conditions and cognitive impairment are both known to lead to depression.
  • Aging-related diseases. Arteriosclerosis and immune and endocrine changes can affect the parts of the brain that control mood, leading to depression.
  • Genetics. Depression, like many other mental health disorders, can run in the family.
  • Hormonal changes. Pregnancy, menopause, and other times of significant hormonal changes can lead to depression.
  • Stress or trauma. Both stress and trauma can trigger depressive episodes, or bring on depression in people who have never suffered from it before.
  • Psychosocial adversity.   Problems like disability, relocation, isolation, impoverishment, bereavement, and caregiving can all be a factor in depression.

What You Can Do to Help 

If you are seeing the signs that your friend or family member could be depressed, know that you have the power to help. Friendship has been proven to combat depression [5] and seriously improve mental health. Stepping up to make a difference in the life of someone you care about is something you can do.

Here is how you can help:

Listen. When they talk, listen to what they are saying. Make sure they know that you care about them regardless of what they are struggling with, that you accept them the way they are. Do not force them to talk about their emotions if they do not want to—just be there, listen, and be present for them in whatever way they need.

Be available. Let your friend or relative know that you are just a call, email, or text message away, any time they need you. Sometimes, just being available is the best thing you can do. It makes sure they know you care and are willing to help them on their terms.

Do not focus on the depression. This is particularly important if they have been diagnosed with or battling depression for years. They understand that depression is a struggle they must live with, but sometimes they just want to feel normal. Do things that help them feel “normal”—it can help to lift them out of their depression more than you realize.

Take their feelings seriously. NEVER say, “Just cheer up” or “Forget about it”, as this implies that depression is something they have greater control over. This emotional problem is often out of their control—their brain chemistry is imbalanced, leading to depressive feelings—so failing to take their feelings seriously can only make the challenge harder for them.

Help them find support. Encourage them (GENTLY) to seek professional help, and help them find the resources, counseling, or therapy that suits them best—but only if they want your assistance. This is an important step in the process of managing depression, and it is one that they may not be able to take on their own. A helping hand can make a huge difference, if it comes from a friend or loved one.

Depression is a daily struggle, but having someone to struggle alongside can make the challenge much more bearable. Be that good friend or family member who is available, welcoming, and supportive, and you can change someone’s life for the better!


  1. WHO (World Health Organization) Depression. 2021 Sept 13.
  2. Rakel RE. Depression. Prim Care. 1999 Jun;26(2):211-24.
  3. Leonard J. Recognizing the hidden signs of depression.  Medical News Today. 2022 June 30.
  4. Alexopoulos GS Depression in the elderly. Lancet. 2005 Jun 4-10;365(9475):1961-70.  doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(05)66665-2.