Sadness, Depression, and the Dark Night of the Soul

Transcending the Medicalization of Sadness

By: Glòria Durà-Vilà

An interesting book I happened across today:

Sadness, Depression, and the Dark Night of the Soul : Transcending the Medicalisation of Sadness - Glòria Durà-Vilà

I found that religion played a crucial role in the way sadness was understood and resolved: symptoms that otherwise might have been described as evidence of a depressive episode were often understood in those more religiously committed within the framework of the Dark Night of the Soul narrative, an active transformation of emotional distress into a process of self-reflection, attribution of religious meaning and spiritual growth. A complex portrayal of the role of the spiritual director and the parish priest in helping those undergoing sadness and depression emerged, containing positive aspects and criticisms of some priests’ lack of commitment and mental health training.

The narratives and arguments presented here emphasize the importance of taking into account the context of depressive symptoms, as the absence of an appropriate context is seemingly what made participants conceptualize them as abnormal. They also warn about the risks of medicalizing normal episodes of sadness, raising questions about the lack of validity of the current decontextualized diagnostic classification for depressive disorder to people who are not mental health experts.

“Revealing a tension between the medical model of depression and the very different language of theology, this book explores how religious people and communities understand severe sadness, their coping mechanisms and their help-seeking behaviours.

Drawing from her study of practicing Catholics, contemplative monks and nuns, priests and laypeople studying theology, the author describes how symptoms that might otherwise be described as pathological and meet diagnostic criteria for a depressive disorder are considered by some religious individuals to be normal and valued experiences. She explains how sadness fits into the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ narrative – an active transformation of emotional distress into an essential ingredient for self-reflection and spiritual growth – and how sadness with a recognised cause is seen to ‘make sense’, whereas sadness without a cause may be seen to warrant psychiatric consultation. The author also discusses the role of the clergy in cases of sadness and depression and their collaboration with medical professionals.”

See the book here:

Review by Dr. Andrew Clark:

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Father: "He never amounted to anything". Mother: "Who the hell does he think he is"? Former Teacher: "Smart as a bag of hammers". Former Boss: "Condescending". Brother: "Mom loves me more".
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