In 2003 researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed data from 5000 American adults to determine what factors in intimate relationships influenced the presence or absence of depression. They found, no surprise, it was quality (support, feelings of closeness) that was the determining factor rather than frequency of contact. Another study at Columbia University in New York of 732 adults found the same thing.
Our close relationships matter, not only that of spouses but children, parents, and siblings. Other relationships matter to. One or two close supportive friends can also help a person resist depression, and anxiety for that matter.
Quality versus frequency of interaction means that even if our spouses work long hours or are gone for months at a time as they might be say in the military, resistance to depression can still exist. It also means having a friend who will drop everything to console or help in a time of need also protects against mental and emotional ills. Finally, it means that a faith community that provides practical, appropriate, and personal help instead of just a place to go on Sunday can also improve the odds someone will avoid depression and anxiety.
Do you know the reverse is also true? The presence of depression, crippling anxiety, and certainly untreated bipolar illness can destroy a marriage and put children at great risk for all kinds of mental and behavioral problems. I read those statistics yesterday. This means quality relationships with others begins with doing what is necessary to mend ourselves.
We say faith protects us against depression, anxiety, and broken relationships. Indeed it can, but only if faith goes beyond quantity of prayer, following all the rules, and volunteering. How many scripture passages talk about clanging bells, faith without action, and the hollowness of doing what is right without love? The bottom line is parishes that provide practical and personal support in addition to a place of worship and accurate catechesis will do a lot to support and foster close relationships, and reduce the risk of mental and emotional ills. Our parish held a special prayer service specifically for the healing of painful memories. Over two hundred people showed up. That alone tells you the need among the people of God. Planning included having a couple of mental health professionals present in case someone needed professional intervention. That’s what I mean by appropriate, concrete, and supportive. Call it “research backed” intervention by parishes.
Let’s pray for the courage to repent of not doing what we know needs to be done for our health and the health of those we love. Even if seemingly fruitless the seeds will be planted for God to water.