The Dance of Depression and Faith

photo-1457040931721-53ca161dab33.jpgDepression affects one in ten Americans at some point in their lifetime[1].  Over 15 million Americans are affected with depression in a given year, and the number of those diagnosed annually increases by 20% each year[2].  In comparison to surrounding countries, these statistics are astronomical.  Though other countries struggle with depression, the United States sorrowfully claims the unfortunate title of being the country with the most depressed citizens in the world[3].

Researchers have studied why depression rates are significantly higher in the United States than in other countries, and Lisa Miller of Columbia University believes she has found the connecting dots: a lack of spirituality among those living in the United States.  As depression rates increase, spirituality in the United States seems to be declining at a parallel speed.  Only 15% of teenagers living in the U.S. claim to have a spiritual connection to a higher power.  In fact, one in five Americans identify themselves as “virtuous humanists”—a moral belief centered on doing “good without a god”[4].  Though some consider this way of thinking about spirituality to be “progressive,” others find it to be a disturbing shift in rationale.

Miller, the author of The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Learning, has recognized society’s separation from spirituality and focused her work on bringing God back into people’s lives.  Her lifelong goal is to connect others with their inner spirituality by changing their cultural perspective.  Miller is convinced that “every child is born a spiritual child.”  She believes that we are all innately born with the desire to connect to a higher power, and that we instinctively love to pray, participate in ceremonies, and view wholeness in the family as a crucial element to life.  When society discourages expression of spirituality, children become less sensitive to the feelings of others and are less receptive to the instruction and guidance of their parents and adult leaders.  Some seem to consider spirituality as foolish, strange, and even a sign of weakness.  American society and popular culture promote such beliefs and, according to Miller, this is the cause of the disproportionately high rate of depression in the United States.

Miller and a group of colleagues studied large samples of teenagers and discovered differences in depression rates between those with a spiritual connection to a higher power and those who did not.  They determined that those who maintained a spiritual connection were 70% less likely to engage in risky sexual activity, 80% less likely to participate in substance abuse, and 60% less likely to experience recurrent depression.  They also found that growing up in a home which has been spiritually active for over two generations leads to 90% decrease in the likelihood of developing major depression. Miller claims that “nothing is as protective against suffering in adolescents than a strong spiritual life.”[5]

I have seen the effects of an active spiritual lifestyle in my friends, family, and especially myself.  As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my spiritual connection with God has transformed and molded every aspect of my life.  In addition to my religious practices, I have developed another spiritual connection through dance.  Similar to the connection that an avid hiker feels with his surrounding scenery, I feel a closeness with God as I express myself through music and movement.  Miller concluded that any type of spiritual connection increases happiness—regardless if that connection is with God, Allah, Buddha, or even nature.

My mother owns a dance school, and I grew up training in her studio.  In the world of dance, there are many opportunities to interact with dancers from other studios at competitions and dance camps.  I have always noticed a palpable difference between my mom’s studio and the others, and Miller’s study finally helped me pinpoint the difference. Although my mom has never pushed our religious beliefs on her students, she founded the studio entirely on her moral beliefs and principles.  Many of her students have made a spiritual connection through dance who otherwise would lack any type of spiritual connection.  The culture of my mom’s studio is one of love, modesty, and teamwork.  We are often shocked when we attend national dance competitions to see most other studios promoting the complete opposite.  I’ve visited other dance studios where hate and back-biting competitiveness is encouraged, rather than love and unity.  The most apparent difference, however, is in the dancers themselves.

In any type of competitive environment, there is always joy and disappointment.  In dance, these emotions are often compounded by the fact that a team member can take first place while you return empty-handed.  From my experience, the disappointment felt by dancers in other studios often leads to heartache and sorrow.  It often creates feelings of worthlessness and jealously towards teammates.  This simply does not happen very often in my mother’s studio.  Dancers at my mom’s studio are more encouraging and supportive of each other, regardless of the result of the competitions.   The difference is the connections my mom helped cultivate in her students through the art of dance.

As I listened to the findings of Lisa Miller’s study, each of her points rang true.  I feel an increase in happiness and love towards others when I have fostered my spiritual connection with God.  At times in my life when I allowed this connection to weaken, I struggled with feelings of worthlessness and despair.  As America disregards faith, removes God and spirituality from our everyday lives, the consequences are clear: depression and unhappiness increase.  This is evident as we view the alarming statistics of depression in the United States.  But there is hope—spiritual hope.  My desire is that we will return our focus to spiritually connecting with a higher being.  If we as a nation can re-cultivate faith in a higher power, we might see a decrease in depression and restore happiness in our citizens.

[1] “Depression Statistics: Unhappiness by the Numbers [INFOGRAPHIC].” Depression Statistics: Unhappiness by the Numbers [INFOGRAPHIC]. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2016.

[2] “Depression Statistics: Unhappiness by the Numbers [INFOGRAPHIC].” Depression Statistics: Unhappiness by the Numbers [INFOGRAPHIC]. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Aug. 2016.

[3] Matsuo, Alex. “The World’s 10 Most Depressed Countries.” TheRichest. N.p., 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.

[4] “American Humanist Association.” American Humanist Association. N.p., 2008. Web. 30 Aug. 2016.

[5] Lisa, Miller. “The Spiritual Child: Educating the Head and the Heart.” The Wheatley Institution. N.p., 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.


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