Depression and Acedia: The Mood and the Spirit

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How do we define depression? Is it a disease of the mood, or one of the spirit?

Depression

Persistent sadness, anxiety, despondence, loss of interest in things once thought pleasurable, the inability to concentrate or make decisions, fatigue and restlessness. All of these are disorders of mood. In the extreme, these are also symptoms of depression.

But what is mood? How do we define it?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines mood as “a particular state of mind or emotion.” Mood is an internal, subjective state that can be influenced by external stimuli.

Acedia

Acedia is an ancient word, once used by Christian monastics who gave up their lives in the wider world for an isolated life of spiritual devotion. Sometimes these monks became listless and began longing to do something other than what they were doing. This loss of self-discipline was referred to as Acedia.

The word defines a spiritual boredom or indolence, a fault that is controllable by will, and therefore a precursor to sin. The Catholic Catechism refers more pointedly to acedia as “spiritual sloth”, sloth being one of the seven mortal sins.

Acedia is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “spiritual torpor and apathy; ennui”.

Mood vs. Spirit

Moods and mood disorders are difficult concepts to define. They are not chemical, yet they can be affected by chemical reactions. They are not neurological, but they can be affected by synapses in the brain. They exist as they are experienced, but no objective test could ever be given that would identify and measure them.

The spirit is not visible or measurable either. We have been taught to believe in its existence, however, we cannot prove it exists.

The differences between the two depend to some degree upon one’s religious viewpoint and upbringing. If we are raised to believe in a higher power from whom grace might be given if we maintain and practice our faith, then perhaps we define our feelings from that perspective. Thus, a failure to maintain equanimity or stability in our day to day emotional response to the world might be a spiritual failure, much like the spiritual failure exhibited by the monks. Treatment for this might be sought from religious sources.

On the other hand, if our beliefs are more secular, then moods that descend to depression may be defined as medical problems subject to intervention by prescription medications and medical therapists.

The essential difference between the two concepts, however, is that Acedia refers to a failure of will to control one’s longings or reactions to daily life, while depression is considered a medical condition or a failure of the body.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Paths of Love and American Heritage Dictionary

 
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