Beth El Congregation of Baltimore held a special event Oct. 31 on depression and mental health. Titled “Unmasking the Sadness: A Shabbat Conversation about Mental Health,” the event featured Dr. Dan Hale, a psychologist and author of “Healing Bodies and Souls: A Practical Guide for Congregations” on his own personal struggles with depression.
While Hale has worked with many vulnerable groups in the past, such as the homeless, the elderly, and children with disabilities, he explained that it “wasn’t until I began working with the seriously depressed that I realized many of the individuals experiencing the greatest sense of vulnerability and despair may be sitting in our worship services, suffering in silence.”
Calling depression one of the nation’s most serious public health concerns, Hale stated that, every year, 10% of American adults experience a major depressive episode, with 20% experiencing an episode at some point in their life. He explained this is made all the more significant by the fact that depression is a major risk factor for suicide, which is now the second leading cause of death in 10 to 34 year olds, and the fourth leading cause for adults age 35 to 54. He added that depression is also a significant risk factor for substance abuse.
When speaking of his own personal battle with depression, Hale described “a profound, deep sense of sadness that was far more intense than anything I had ever experienced before. And it never went away. There was absolutely no relief, no reprieve. It was with me every minute of every day.”
Other aspects of his depression, Hale said, included trouble sleeping and the loss of his appetite, his energy to do things like going out to eat, and any interest in things he once enjoyed, such as worship services.
To combat depression, Hale espoused the creation of “communities where individuals experiencing the crippling pain and despair of depression can feel safe turning to their clergy and fellow congregants.”
Hale stated that this begins by “bringing the topic of depression out of the darkness and into the light. We must begin talking about it more openly, just as we are doing here today.”