Impurity, Consent, and Mental Illness


Hello friends,

I’ve often wondered how mental illness might affect the culpability of a person who commits a grave sin, especially in the darkness of serious clinical depression.

Taking masturbation as an example: around 1-3 PM each day, my despair reaches critical levels. I begin to think “God hates me”, “I have been abandoned by everyone”, “everything is pointless”, and other such thoughts. This is the strongest period of temptation for committing impurity. I wish to become lost in a soothing world created by the imagination: where my Person ceases to exist, and is subsumed into another. One moment I begin to think: “I am a worthless, useless, pointless piece of garbage…” and the next thing you know, I have committed the sin. I see the gravity of the sin immediately, but a few hours later, when my mind has left the depression behind somewhat, I see that my reasonable faculties were impeded when I sinned.

I am very confused about the level of consent & culpability involved here - and since I am not a psychologist, I can’t tell. My spiritual father and I are trying to figure out how much of the despair I am responsible for (bad habits of thinking, etc.), vs. how much of it is simply chemical imbalance, or otherwise outside my control. He is not available for advice right now, and I would like some help.

It is very convenient for me to get to confession, and I love it. This is not about trying to avoid the sacrament. I just want to hear your moral considerations.


For the particular example of masturbation:

Bolded emphasis is mine


How about talking to a doctor, first? A medical doctor, trained in dealing with these issues. I sort of assume you already have one, but perhaps not. It’s bad enough feeling bad about yourself without making yourself feel guilty for feeling bad about yourself. God loves you and understands. Have faith in that. And get your meds adjusted.


I agree with the advice here. 3-5 pm is a time when some adrenal hormones drop to low levels and that may be partially responsible for fueling your actions. In the meantime, try distractions, take a walk, even to the mailbox etc. Physical activity can help.

Praying for you


Do something to keep yourself busy and/or make sure you’re not alone. Also, I would see a doctor about the possibility of going on anti-depressants. Feelings of worthlessness on a daily basis are not healthy.


You need to work on not giving into temptation when an occasion of sin arises. The moment you begin to feel worthless pick up your Bible or a good pious book before it is too late and you give into a mortal sin. We must do violence to ourselves if we wish to enter Heaven – we can not live a soft life of self-indulgence or pampering. God bless you.


My priest said to me once that it depends on my total willingness to sin. He went on to say that my mental illness could also be to blame. I go to confession anyway because I don't want to make excuses for my sin.



I go to confession, too, partly in order not to avoid the excuse of my mental illness. Rather, I should say, I confess particular sins in order not to avoid the excuse, like sloth.

I know depression can get in the way of my ambition to get things done, including spending time in prayer, when I’d rather sleep all day and all night. Sometimes I get mixed up in discerning where the sickness ends and the sin begins. I never know who the priest will be in the confessional so there are times when I mention my depression and my dilemma in figuring this all out (briefly) when there’s a new priest. If confessing self-injury I always tell a new priest that I also have psychiatric help - just so he won’t worry too much about me.

So, rather than continue to ramble on, there are others of us, Topaz, who struggle with the discernment you’re asking about. My advice is to continue to pray, continue to avail yourself of the Sacraments, and continue to seek the advice of your Spiritual Director. I know he’s not available just now but He is always available. Trust in Him.


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