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Faith and Prayer When Going Through Depression

Madeleine Breen

How do I pray, as someone who lives with bipolar disorder? In my younger years when I was fairly stabilized on medicine, the daily Scriptures were my prayer and my study, sometimes studying several hours with my commentaries and allowing the silence to foster the Holy Spirit’s voice. During daily Mass and throughout the day new things might connect; but there was always a Connection. As a liturgist and musician, this was my food so as to give my gift to the prayer of others. 

As that medicine has now become dangerous for my health, I am living with a different combination of medicines; for the past several years, I have found myself in bipolar depression for an average of 8 months out of every year. These episodes occur because of physiological changes; nothing is wrong. I am not sad or upset about anything. However, I become emotionally dead, mentally confused and experience great vulnerability, often isolating myself during these times. 

How do I pray, as someone living inside bipolar depression? I am unable to experience the Connection during these times; I am like a shell having limited memory of my studies; all routines or rituals that I enjoy when well are merely times of going through the motions. 

And so I give what I have. I know that Life comes from Death, and to this I cling. I know that in my deadness there is new Life that only the Giver of Life can call forth into new Being. There is grace in knowing that I am able to suffer with the entire Body and Blood of Christ in a way that my well self, the in-control self, cannot….


Dear Madeleine, I was really moved by your account and your clarity about the difficulties you face in prayer when you are depressed. This is such an important area and you are very courageous I feel in your approach to those times where you experience that loss of connection so deeply. It's a cruel factor of depressive illness that the very things that could help are never more impossible to grasp. I feel encouraged by your tenacious grasp of your suffering and your knowledge that despite everything it does contain meaning and that it does contain God. Sending thoughts and prayers and thank you for speaking about this.

Catherine, thank you for your affirmation of how I communicate the seeming loss of faith and ability to pray while in bipolar depression. As a music minister, there is a HUGE stigma, for someone whose life is "supposed to be" a joyful offering of suffering as well as "ministerial productivity." I pray that someone reading this facing a similar situation can find some acceptance and love, learning that living out one's faith is truly not being able to see the path ahead.

I was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1970. I fled the ministry two years later thinking my chronic major depression were caused by not praying enough. I wasn't diagnosed with bipolar disorder until 1993, one year after my brother's suicide who was also a Baptist preacher. He ran from treatment for bipolar disorder out of fear of stigma. I wrote about God and mental illness is this essay in sound on my website:

Manic (even hypo-manic) phase brings for me inability to remain focused (ADHD). Having been brought up in a Christian family, daily Bible study and prayer is important to me. However, maintaining any sort of flow or continuity is nigh on impossible. Maintaining focus on reading - and especially praying - also seems impossible. And out of pure frustration, I often give up - with the associated feelings of guilt and longing to be able to maintain my side of what I have always been taught should be a two-way communication. Even though I believe in His omniscience, I feel sometimes that God could not possibly understand my end of the conversation. I constantly pray for the ability to maintain my focus - even if just for one prayer. But then I also acknowledge that He made me as I am, and can only have faith that He will understand my situation, and not withhold my eventual access to His glory. (From a dedicated church organist...)

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