Depression & the Dark Night of the Soul
One thing about the experience of severe depression, however caused, is the identification with the dark night of the soul as commonly described by St John of the Cross – although I don’t think it is a specific term he used.
“ How do we know that we have entered upon the beginnings of infused prayer and are receiving the initial purifications that will prepare us, if we persevere, for still deeper communion? Before we consider the signs that St. John of the Cross identifies, it may be well to lay to rest a spiritual blunder that is not rarely made, namely, the confusing of a mental problem with the dark night. Too often people use John’s terminology without knowing what he actually has in mind. Clarifying the sharp differences between a mental/emotional problem and the purifying nights can prepare us to understand the genuine signs better.” 4.
I will give two examples from “ Fire Within” to explain the difference.
1. Mental/emotional problem
Excessive introspection, self-concern, self-analysis. The person can scarcely get his mind off himself and his problem. Advice does little to remedy this trait, at least at first.
Little or no introspection once the condition is adequately explained. Little awareness of the problem aside from prayer time.
2. Mental/emotional problem
Depression. The person with a mental problem often suffers from clinical depression more or less severe.
There is no depression at all. At work, play, meals, the person is as cheerful as at any other period in the spiritual life.
However to complicate matters!
“ It can happen that a person with some emotional problem may at the same time be going through contemplative purification, and it may be difficult in a given case to sort one out from the other. But all the same, the two phenomena are very different and distict both in their causes and in their effects. “ 1.
1. “ Fire Within “ Thomas Dubay, S.M. Ignatius Press