God as AntiDepressant   Leave a comment

This giant message, "Only Jesus Christ Saves," on a building in San Salvador just behind Juan Pablo II avenue, near the Tiendona market, can be seen far down the street.

Most Salvadorans are religious.   God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and religious holidays are taken seriously here.   What I like is their approach to religion, which feels like a natural part of their lives, and rather than being exclusive about their religion, they tend to be inclusive.

A number of people at my recent job are what I would consider to be “religious,” but they are not preachy, and do not appear critical of other people’s behavior.  To give an example, a group of us went out for drinks the other evening.  One of the young men who came out with us for beers was joking with a visiting gringa, asking if she would like him to find her a “Salvadoran” boyfriend, and even called a friend on his cell phone, giving her a chance to say ‘hello’ to him and break the ice.  Why not?   A bit later in the evening, he excused himself to go to, where but…?  A bible class!  (And on a Friday night, at that).

The visiting gringa and myself said this was not how we envision a “religious” person, because for us, they would unlikely ‘come out for drinks’ or have the same attitude he has. Our idea of a religious person in North America is of a more stern, uptight person. I’m sure this is a bit of a stereotype, but it’s pervasive.  An American coworker chimed in, adding that in her church, they recently started a new policy, unbenownst to her, so that on her visit to the states during Christmas, her mother quickly corrected her when she began to clap.  Clapping is no longer allowed in her church; the parishioners now wave their programs in the air silently, instead.  I wonder what the higher-ups in her church would think about the rock-n-roll music bellowing out of the Evangelical church next to my house every Sunday.  I figure if it keeps the young people coming, keep playing it.

Salvadoran people face daily obstacles we would never imagine – things like water only running 1-3 hours a day (or every other day), transportation craziness, inability to afford things most Americans would just “die” if they couldn’t have, the list goes on.  Yet they do not become depressed about this.  Their approach is to accept things they don’t have power over, and sidestep frequent dangers by adjusting their time schedules, routes, and even conversations. Despite these hardships they face, their belief in God does not waiver. Since most people here cannot afford a middle-class solution to depression (which often might be taking up a new hobby, seeing a psychologist on a regular basis, and/or consuming various pharmacopia some might consider ‘necessary’), their solution is simple:

God as Antidepressant

And it appears to be working. El Salvador ranked number 8 on the 2009 Happy Planet Index, with the United States ranking 114.  It does rank below the United States and other countries in the World Database of Happiness, but remains one of the happiest countries based on the World Values Survey (University of Michigan), positioned at 11th of 97 countries, while the U.S is 16th.

I won’t attribute all of the Salvadoran happiness to their religion, but I sure think it helps.  That, along with a positive attitude that’s not entwined with high expectations, much less of an attachment to material things, and a strong allegiance to family and ties to community, two reliable pillars one can lean on, that may help keep depression at bay.

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