We tend to elevate the saints to the pedestal of perfection. We view these saints as the epitome of holiness and sometimes overlook or dismiss the truth that they are human. They suffer from the same things we suffer from as well. They had anger, frustration, addictions, anxiety, and depression. There are several saints who suffered from depression and even dealt with suicidal ideations. For those who endure these mental health issues, you are not alone. You have a host of saints surrounding you and praying because they understand. They were there too.
St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Dymphna, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. John Vianney, St. Francis de Sales, St. Augustine, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton are just a few of the great saints who know what it is like to experience depression. For some, they can relate to feelings of suicidal ideations and the fears that come with anxiety. They became saints despite their struggles. You can as well.
St. Ignatius of Loyola became so despondent at one point that he, according to Catholic Encyclopedia, “was violently tempted to end his miseries by suicide, on which he resolved neither to eat nor to drink (unless his life was in danger) until God granted him the peace which he desired, and so he continued until his confessor stopped him at the end of the work.”
According to Fr. Joseph Munitiz, SJ, St. Ignatius had “poor concentration, indecisiveness, recurrent thoughts of death and suicide, loss of interest and pleasure in prayer or in attending liturgical functions, agitations and great distress, self-punishment (fasting) with loss of weight and probably chronic fatigue.” For those who have attended any form of professional counseling, you may be familiar with a concept called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Although the practice by name was not around when St. Ignatius needed it, the concept was utilized by many, and St. Ignatius was encouraged to use such a practice.
He reminded himself the “bad” thoughts should be placed in the category “evil”, and, in his mind, the “good” thoughts should be those which replace the bad. He began to focus on understanding the “bad” thoughts were superficial and not reality. They were not forever and certainly not eternal. He intentionally replaced the bad thoughts, when they would come to his mind, with “good” thoughts and direct his attention to the Lord. One of the prayers St. Ignatius prayed, and one which those suffering from depression can find useful, is the following:
“O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of Your Presence, your love, and your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in your protecting love and strengthening power so that nothing may frighten or worry us. For, living close to you, we shall see your hand, your purpose, your will through all things.”
Depression does not define your life and it does not direct your future. It is not the result of your failure as a person. It is, however, something that can be overcome and defeated. You have a host of heavenly saints waiting to help you.