Saints who suffered depression


Since so many people suffer depression, anyone have know Saints that suffered depression? I know of the patron saint of mental illness from eons ago and that Elizabeth Seton had a terrible time with it on and off in her life. Anyone else? By the way, Happy All Saints Day everyone!


St. John Vianney

"St. John Vianney, the famous Cure of the tiny French village of Ars, is most popularly known as the holy and humble priest who spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day hearing confessions and giving advice to long processions of people. He practiced extraordinary penances and fasts for the conversion of sinners and was subject to diabolic persecution all his priestly life. It is said that the devil revealed once that if there were but three priests in the world like the Cure of Ars, the devil would lose his kingdom.

What is less known is the overwhelming depression that weighed upon John Vianney’s soul without relief his entire life. Though he was the most sought-after man in all of France, he seemed incapable of seeing the immense amount of good he was doing. Despite the tens of thousands of pilgrims who traveled to Ars each year in the hope of receiving the sacraments or a word of advice from him, he believed himself useless. The priest who had reawakened the faith of a village and set all France aflame through his preaching and holiness felt God so far from him that he was afraid he had no more faith. He believed himself to have no intelligence or gift of discernment. It is as if God drew a veil over his eyes so that he could see nothing of what God was doing through him for others. The Cure feared he was ruining everything and had become an obstacle in God’s way.
The root of John Vianney’s severe depression was his fear of doing badly at every turn, and the thousands who traveled to Ars increased his terror. It never occurred to him that he might have a special grace. Instead, he feared that the long line of penitents to his village church were a sign that he was a hypocrite. He feared facing the judgment with the responsibility for all these people on his conscience. There was not a moment when he felt that God was satisfied with him. A great and profound sadness possessed his soul so powerfully that he eventually could not even imagine relief.

Whenever the tempests of depression seemed to have enough power to drown him in the vision of his own miseries, the Cure would bow his head, throw himself before God like “a dog at the feet of his master,” and allow the storm to pass without changing his resolve to love and serve God if he could. Yet he kept this pain so private that except for a few confidantes, most people saw only tranquility and gentleness in his bearing."

An excerpt from the book “Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach” by Kathryn J. Hermes

More ( to pray when depressed) at the following link:


I think one needs to be careful about looking at the saints’ lives and saying so-and-so had depression. I’m not saying it couldn’t be true, but it might be difficult for us non-saints (or saints-in-the-making? :D) to actually know.

I mean, a non-Catholic could read the life of a saint and say, “Wow, a masochist with really low self-esteem.” But we know that’s not what was going on at all, but that actually, the saint was incredibly humble and close to God and wanted to abase him/herself before the unimaginable glory and holiness of God. There’s a spiritual reality that could vaguely resemble something profane on the surface, but is not at all related in actuality.

Many saints suffered from the “dark night of the soul.” This is NOT the same as depression. But somebody who didn’t know very much about it or didn’t believe in the spiritual reality might think it was similar or the same.

Part of the reason I feel caution is important is because many atheists (I know from experience, I’m surrounded by them!) will try to psychoanalyze the saints to show that they were pathological, hence “disproving” the Catholic faith. Mother Teresa is a good example. When it became known that she had suffered from terrible darkness in her soul for many decades, atheists said, “She was depressed! She was a hypocrite! She didn’t even believe in God!” Catholics who knew their faith said, “Saint.”


St Dymphna is the Patron Saint of those who suffer from mental illnesses and nervous system disorders, epileptics, mental health professionals, incest victims, and runaways


Valid points :thumbsup: but depression and the dark night of the soul share a lot of symptoms. So I think that saints who went through this night and not depression will still be first rate candidates to help those with depression (unfortunately I speak from experience) because they know how it feels.


Depression as well as infirmities such as leprosy, scruples (Theresa Lisieux), etc are considered the “context” for growing holiness. According to Kevin Culligan, OCD (order of carmelite disc. (not obsess. comp disorder :smiley: ), clinical depression and the dark nights can occur at the same time. One does not make a person holier than the rest and the other does not make one less holy than the rest. Holiness is determined by fruits, not religious or psychological experience. Something to tell those troublesome atheists. :slight_smile: Source: “The Dark Night and Depression” in Carmelite Prayer, 2003 Paulist Press.

Thanks for responses student09, jrabs, and sandria. I actually think I read somewhere St Theresa Lisieux but I’ll have to go see. Incidentally, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton contemplated suicide in her teen years. She was going to overdose on her physician-father’s pain drugs, which I believe were a form of morphine. It’s in her memoirs and a letter to a friend who was himself suicidal. (you can tell she is my favorite Saint, mostly because of her unruly boys. :thumbsup:)

Hmm, anyone else? Doesn’t sound too promising… :shrug:


Well, in “Dark Night of the Soul” by St John of the Cross, he speaks of two nights of the soul, one experienced by beginners, the other by those who are “proficient”. The point of both of these nights, according to him, is purgative: if the person remains faithful, the night actually cleanses the soul and brings it closer to God. The first night is a purgation of sense. The ultimate aim of the second night is union with God.

“And it will also be seen how many blessings the dark night of which we shall treat brings with it, since it cleanses the soul and purifies it from all these imperfections.” (Dark Night, Bk 1, Ch 1)

So actually, according to St John of the Cross, the purpose of the dark night of the soul IS to make one holy and to raise one to a very high degree of contemplative prayer and union with God.

Now, this is not what depression does. Depression might, however, bring one closer to God, simply by virtue of being a kind of suffering.


One other point to add: souls enduring the passive night of spirit (aka Dark Night) are fully functioning with few, if any, debilitating effects as is often the case with depression. On the contrary, souls going through the passive purifications perform of the duties of their state in life to a very high degree. And rarely does anyone, outside their director, even know anything “out of the ordinary” is going on. St. John of the Cross is quite careful to distinguish the interior trials of the night from what he called “melancolia.”

Also, Fr. Dubay in “Fire Within” discusses at some length how depression is mis-diagnosed in spiritual settings as a Dark Night far to often . . . the differences between the two aren’t that hard to tell when one knows what to look for.

Precisely. The Dark Night is the result of infused contemplation and it’s how souls are made Saints while still here on earth. The “effects” are spiritual . . . not physical.

Dave :slight_smile:


“By their *fruits *you shall know them.” Jesus.

You know, I actually agree with you two. My wording must have been bad. What I meant was that the “experience” of a dark night does not indicate holiness. It only indicates God’s action on a soul. Besides, the descriptions of John Cross and Theresa Avila are maps not territory and each person experiences it differently and *in the context *of unique human experiences, which can include depression. DBT, your differentiation of depr and dk ngt are right on but I see you are secular carmelite, so you would know. I had differentiated depression from the dark nights when I said they could occur together. Didn’t want to get into details, why I sourced it.

Anyway, a discussion of the dark nights vs depression can be another thread if anyone wants to start one. There’s a lot to discuss there. Be glad to join in.

Back to the original question: Saints who suffered depression anyone?


Putting the Dark Night aside, and for the moment St Dymphna who is a patron for those who suffer anxiety and other mental illnesses, I am also seeking a saints who suffered depression. I realize all the difficulties also with the diagnosis of depression historically.

I saw the topic of depression discussed on EWTN which wasn’t very helpful, to me anyway.
Thanks for any other saints.


Saint Benedict Joseph Labre is another saint that is a patron of those with mental illnesses.

Blessed Fr. Enrico Rebuschini had what we know as bipolar disorder.
He has a very inspirational story.


Two future saints who suffered from depression are: The Servant of God Cleonilde Guerra and Wiera (Ida) Francia. :sad_yes: I read their stories in Joan Carroll Cruz’s book "Saintly Women of Modern Times. There are others who suffered from others forms of mental illness, but always found peace in their strong faith and prayer and in their holy companions.


Thanks to both Theresa and JRS 88 - I’ll investigate both leads.


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