For some time now, I have been feeling anxious and depressed. It is a general feeling, not connected to any specific thing that I can pinpoint, but it’s driving me crazy. Does Judaism have anything against going to psychiatrists? Please answer as soon as possible with any advice you can give.
First of all, the Torah commands us to be happy. "You should be happy with all of the good that G-d has given you (1)." Rabbi Nachman teaches that it is a mitzvah to be happy at all times (2). Therefore your feeling of depression is not only an emotional concern, it is a spiritual concern as well. In answer to your question, our sages teach in "The Chapters of the Fathers" that every man should find a teacher. Rabbi Chaim Moshe Luzzuto, in his classic work, "The Path of the Just," describes life as a garden maze, the type found on the lawns of kings. These mazes are filled with many dead ends, making it difficult for a person to find his way through the windings and turns. To discover the true path, the seeker must rely on the guidance of someone who sits above the maze, looking down from a higher perspective. These true guides are the rabbis. Judaism does not have anything against psychiatry, psychology and its branches. Many people have been helped by psychological treatment. The Torah emphasizes that a person is to take special care over his health, and this includes his physical and emotional well-being (3). Certainly there can be potential pitfalls that should be avoided. For instance, if your psychiatrist advises you to let off all of your repressed pent-up anger at your parents, and you act on this advice, this may be in violation of the commandment to honor your father and mother. Or if he tells you to stop feeling guilty about your desires and to do anything you feel like doing, this may lead you to transgress a handful of Torah prohibitions. Perhaps, in accord with the month of Elul, we will suggest another avenue of exploration. In his book, Orot HaT’shuva ("The Lights of T’shuva,") Rabbi Kook teaches that anxiety and depression stem from an alienation from G-d (4). "What is the cause of melancholy?" he asks. "The answer is the over-abundance of evil deeds, evil character traits, and evil beliefs on the soul. The soul's deep sensitivity feels the bitterness that these cause, and it draws back, frightened and depressed (5)." "All depression stems from sin, and T’shuva (penitence) comes to illuminate the soul and transforms the depression to joy (6)." "Every sin causes a special anxiety on the spirit, which can only be erased by T’shuva. According to the depth of that T’shuva, the anxiety itself is transformed into inner security and courage (7)." Thus, you should know that your depression is a positive sign. It means that you are still spiritually awake and able to feel your pain. This is the first step towards feeling better. In fact, you should feel glad that you feel bad. Some people are so ensconced in sin and distant from G-d that they don't even know how bad they are feeling. So perhaps, before rushing off to the psychiatrist's couch, you should embark on the glorious road of T’shuva. When a person does T’shuva, he opens his soul to a river of spiritual delight. The joy he discovers is like nothing he has ever experienced. "Great and exalted is the pleasure of T’shuva. The searing flame of pain caused by sin purifies the will and refines the character of a person to an exalted sparkling purity until the great joy of life is opened for him. Nothing purges, and a person raises him to the status of being truly a man like the profound process of T’shuva. In the place where the masters of T’shuva stand, even the completely righteous cannot stand (8)." The self-help books on psychology and being happy which fill bookstores contain many useful insights and tips. After all, man is influenced by a wide gamut of factors dating back even before his conception, through his childhood years, and spanning life's passages. Rabbi Kook reveals that on an even deeper level, there is a spiritual phenomenon of wondrous beauty, like a butterfly enclosed in a cocoon, waiting to soar free. This is the great light and the healing wonder of T’shuva. --------------------------------------------------------- 1. Deuteronomy, 26:11. 2. Likuei Etzot, Joy, 30. 3. Deuteronomy, 4:9. Rambam, Laws of Rotze'ach and Shmirat HaNefesh 11:4. 4. See the book, "The Art of T’shuva" by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman for a translation and commentary on Rabbi Kook's "Lights on T’shuva." 5. Orot HaT’shuva, 14:6. 6. Ibid, 14:7. 7. Ibid, 8:13. The Talmud, Berachot 60A, relates that a student was walking with his teacher through the market in Jerusalem. Seeing that the student was anxious, the teacher called him a sinner, quoting the verse, Isaiah, 33:14, "The sinners of Zion are afraid." 8. Berachot 34B. Orot HaT’shuva, 13:11.