Faith and Depression


Depression wears down our sense of trust and faith. Biologically, depression involves activating parts of the brain that search for problems.

What is faith? It is an experience more than a specific belief. You can try an experiment by completing this sentence a few times (in your mind or out loud): “I have faith in  _________.” Then complete another sentence a few times: “I have no faith in ________.” What do faith – and no faith – feel like?

The experience of faith probably includes a sense of trust. The word comes from the Latin “fides” which means trust.

Another word from the same root is confidence. And so faith includes a sense of confidence.

The things we have faith in may be spiritual or religious, but the sources of faith are many including experience, thought, people we trust and our own internal sense of knowing what is right. Some things that we have faith in may be obvious: having faith in gravity. But other things might be more of a choice. For example having faith in our child’s ability to succeed in life. Or having faith in your doctor.

Faith is an emotional experience that is deeply restorative and it can be sought even in times of doubt. In the broad way that I spoke of faith in this short article, all of us must have some faith. You can consciously notice the things that you have faith in and search for more. And the recognition of having faith calms the parts of the brain that are activated by depression, fear and the emotional component of pain.

Rick Hanson, who wrote a post on his website on this topic that inspired this article, had this to say on the topic:

In your brain, faith (broadly defined to include assumptions and expectations) is an efficient way to conserve neural resources by not figuring things out each time from scratch. The visceral sense of conviction in faith integrates prefrontal logic, limbic emotion, and brainstem arousal.

Without faith in the world and in yourself, life feels shaky and scary. Faith grounds you in what’s reliable and supportive; it’s the antidote to doubt and fear. It strengthens you and supports you in weathering hard times. It helps you stay on your chosen paths, with confidence they will lead to good places. Faith fuels the hope and optimism that encourage the actions that lead to the results that confirm your faith, in a lovely positive cycle. Faith lifts your eyes to the far horizons, toward what’s sacred, even Divine.

The practice of faith must begin with some amount of doubt. It does no good to trust in people who repeatedly abuse our trust. So before practicing the experience of faith consider the possibility that the things you might wish to have faith in are not trustworthy.

You might want to make a list of things where faith was misguided. Imagine letting go of those things. But also try to identify the need that that misguided faith was trying to fill in search for other sources that might replace it.

And then make a list of things that you can have faith in. People you could trust more, even children, or your own abilities, there are many sources of faith. Again, Rick Hanson suggests this as a way of practicing the experience of faith:

Pick one and see if you can have more faith in it. Remember the good reasons for relying upon it. Imagine how more trust in it will help you and others. Consciously choose to believe in it.

Third, consider some of the good qualities and aspirations in your innermost heart. Give yourself over to them for a moment – or longer. What’s that like?

Try to have more faith in the best parts of yourself. They’ve always been faithful to you.”

For more on this topic you might enjoy this video, also by Rick Hanson.

For more thoughts from Rick Hanson –

Foundations of Wellbeing describes his amazing online course.

Trust in Love is an idea very much aligned with faith.

Hardwiring Happiness talks about the neurobiology of positive transformation of the brain.