Does Depression Negate Moral Responsibility?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2014 Nancy Virden

photo-24771920-angry-expression Does depression negate moral responsibility? In a word, no. Let me repeat that in case any readers are hoping their suffering allots them freedom to abuse other people. NO.

Depression saps our energy, motivation, cognitive abilities, and rationality. It does not remove our ability to choose. One person I know likes to use depression as an excuse to berate and undermine those around him. Is he suffering? Yes, deeply. Is he needy? Yes. Does he have the power to choose to treat others with respect? Yes, absolutely. Whatever  he or any one of us in emotional pain selects to do, we are morally responsible for that decision.

This same person may be incapable of “normal” action or of doing what others expect of him. And it may seem natural to him to snap at someone who is trying to help and is being annoying, dismissive, or ignorant in the process. For the depressed, especially those experiencing major depression, life becomes narrow. One becomes ego-centric in way because all he knows in his desperate reality is pain.

Imagine having a heart attack and at the same time being offered season tickets to your favorite team’s games. Is there a chance you would be distracted enough by the chest pains to not notice the season tickets? Probably.  Maybe you would snap at the person offering the tickets, “I need an ambulance, dummy!”

Individuals who are emotionally struggling are needy, no doubt. As such they may not be who you used to see. Patience is required to deal with a depressed co-worker, boss, parent, child, friend, or spouse. It is also ok to tell them when they have crossed boundaries and are mistreating you.

Snapping, battering, neglecting- allphoto-24769212-man-and-woman-fighting are moral issues that people on both sides of the pain have no right to do. Committing crimes, cheating on the spouse, and explosive anger are not any more harmless because a depressed person is doing them than under any other circumstance.

As in all of life, forgiveness, patience, and mercy may be applicable to your relationship with a depressed person. Equally valid are self-protection, your boundaries, and your wellbeing. You matter too.


NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

*pictures from

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