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Posted November 24, 2003

Pope Says Consumerism Helps to Spread Depression

Pontiff links depression with media that exalt consumerism,
instant gratification, and the race for a better lifestyle.

By Peggy Polk

VATICAN CITY (RNS)--Pope John Paul II warned Friday (Nov. 14) that a consumerist society preoccupied with material well-being has helped to make depression the most common psychiatric disease in the Western world.

Addressing participants in a conference on depression, the Roman Catholic pontiff offered the experience of religious faith as a valid treatment for the depressed because it "opens them to hope and presses them to choose life." The pope recommended meditating on the Psalms, reciting the Rosary and taking part in the Eucharist as avenues of escape from depression, which he said is "always a spiritual trial."

More than 600 experts from the psychiatric, health care and religious worlds are attending the three-day (Nov.13-15) international conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care.

"The spread of depressive states has become worrying," the pope told them at a Vatican audience. "They reveal human, psychological and spiritual fragility that at least in part are induced by society."

It is important, he said, to recognize that depression can be a response to messages of the media that "exalt consumerism, the immediate satisfaction of desires and the race to an ever better material well-being."

Depressed people need to regain "self esteem, faith in their own capacity, interest in the future and the will to live," John Paul said. They need to be part of "a community of faith and life in which they can feel themselves welcomed, understood, sustained and, in a word, worthy of loving and being loved."

"On the spiritual route," he said, "reading and meditating on the Psalms, in which the sacred author expresses his joy and anguish in prayer, can be of great help. Reciting the Rosary permits finding in Mary a loving mother, who teaches how to live in Christ. Taking part in the Eucharist is a source of interior peace both through the effect of the word and the bread of life and through becoming part of an ecclesial community."

John Paul said the family, schools, youth movements and parish associations have roles to play in preventing the disease.

"The phenomenon of depression tells the church and all of society how important it is to offer to people, and especially to the young, models and experiences that help them to grow on the human, psychological, moral and spiritual plane," the pope said.