- Mental Health
A Spiritual Look At Depression
We live in a time of great uncertainty, and although we are considerably richer, more technologically advanced, and far more educated than ever, some scientists suggest that depression is more prevalent today than it was throughout the entire course of human history.
But why? What is it that makes us so sad? Now that we possess so much more than our ancestors, and have access to almost limitless resources to help us overcome depression, what keeps us from realizing our full potential and finding the strength to push through life's adversities with courage, humor, and grace?
The answers may lay in examining depression from a spiritual point of view.
Depression Is "In"
I don't mean to disparage individual suffering, or downplay anyone's troubles or pain as insignificant or even imagined - I have struggled with depression myself - but the fact is that, thanks to a careless media and people's need to fit in and be heard, depression has moved from being a serious illness to being a cultural phenomenon.
Don't believe me? Visit YouTube and look for "emo" music, which glorifies depression by promoting not just the indulgence of negative emotions, but an entire set of styles and attitudes with which to label oneself in order to be identified by peers.
If that doesn't convince you, visit a depression chat room on AOL or other chat host. I've experimented with this myself and found that these chats inevitably boil down to a verbal contest about who is the most depressed, who is the closest to suicide, who has seen the most therapists in vain, who acts the most irresponsible because he or she just isn't "right" and can justify any behavior with depression, or who takes the hardest anti-depressant drugs.
The problem with these attitudes is obvious from any angle. From a spiritual point of view, however, it becomes downright frightening. What is wrong with a society where countless people are so depressed that they've made an entire subculture out of an illness just to be heard among the ever-growing masses? Where is personal power and responsibility toward creating a better, friendlier, more peaceful world in that equation?
Will dressing up the problem or hiding it behind music actually help anyone? Does depression truly provide justification for any lewd, cruel, or destructive behavior? Indeed, is making yourself part of a group that perpetually and almost gleefully flirts with darkness a wise decision under any circumstance? Of course not - so please don't buy into the hype.
Instead of deliberately encouraging fears, paranoia, anxieties, and phobias, not to mention negative behaviors excused as symptoms of an underlying condition, seek to help yourself and others overcome depression. Instead of accepting that depression is hopeless and just part of who you are, seek to fight for your emotional freedom. One cannot escape depression by dwelling on the negative (especially not by making it "cool"), so do your soul a favor and make its job of learning a bit easier by stubbornly pursuing the positive.
Remember: The only way out of depression is through - draw strength from your inner resources and from those who truly love you and mean you well, not from that which appears to offer solace but only serves to further solidify the walls of your internal prison.
(Please note: When I speak of groups, I'm not referring to genuine support groups, but to groups whose sole purpose seems to lay in advancing, rather than healing, the various stages and forms of depression.)
Depression Is Profitable
I can't write much on this particular sub-topic that hasn't already been written, but I'll restate what we already know for emphasis. Pharmaceutical companies stand to earn hundreds of millions of dollars annually from selling anti-depressant drugs. It stands to reason that these businesses - and make no mistake, that's what they are - might encourage doctors to diagnose patients with depression and load them up with drugs just to turn a higher profit.
Ask yourself how many people are currently consuming expensive and dangerous medications for depression symptoms which could have just as easily been treated via therapy or homeopathic means. Further ask yourself what percentage of patients with depression actually need harsh medications to correct the chemical imbalance in their brains. You can do this by thinking of people you know who also suffer from depression. In your honest opinion, how many of them could probably deal with their depression via healthier avenues?
From a spiritualist's view, placing profit over humanity is inexcusable. Those who market themselves to the public as defenders of physical and emotional health should help people, not encourage them to believe that every bout of sadness, every tear shed following a loss, and every grain of fear sprouting into confusion or melancholy is insurmountable without radically altering the brain's chemistry through medication. If we were to believe these "health advocates" (businesses), just about everyone we know, including ourselves, would have at least one or two serious mental disorders and require medical intervention.
Obviously, this can't be true - if it is, we're worse off than we ever suspected, all our power to govern our own existence is gone, and we're headed down the chute of total social disintegration for good. What civilization could survive with 90% of its population being "mentally ill"?
Try this experiment. Visit this site and take the 5-minute test for personality disorders. Unless you're Mr. Spock or have absolutely no sense of who you truly are, I'm sure the results will amuse you.
Depression Is About Fear
Now that pharmaceutical companies and cultural phenomena are out of the way, we can focus on the actual cause of depression and how to eliminate it. Depression is a medical condition - far be it from me to say otherwise - but it is also a spiritual condition because it involves emotions (in other words, it transcends the mere physical dimension of life).
So what causes depression? The easy answers would be death, loss, divorce, age, illness, frustration, social ineptitude, being misunderstood, not finding employment, hating one's job, school, or society, or perhaps finding oneself unable to fit in. But those aren't the real issue, and until we recognize what's really happening inside of us, we can't hope to battle depression successfully.
Depression is FEAR. Take the "easy" answers I just supplied and examine them again, with a new set of eyes:
- Death frightens us (or own or someone else's) because we can't deal with loss or the thought of the unknown none of us ultimately escape.
- Divorce frightens us because we fear loneliness, rejection, hatred, not being good enough, being cheated on, or being abandoned or thrown away.
- Age makes us fearful because we haven't done enough, or don't look or feel like we did at sixteen.
- Illness scares us because it debilitates us physically or emotionally, and we don't want to be in pain, be seen as weak or crippled, or die.
- Frustration stems from the fear that what we want may never come to pass, or that others or ourselves aren't living up to our standards or expectations.
- Social ineptitude begins as a fear of rejection and embarrassment (not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, etc.)
- Not finding gainful employment comes from the fear of being unable to provide for ourselves and our families, or living in unfavorable economic conditions (and being judged for it).
- Hating one's job or school is merely a fear of who ELSE goes there, never being able to escape, being pushed beyond one's limits, or not performing as well as others.
- Hating one's society results from a fear of not fitting in or feeling alienated by its members. Often, this fear is also accompanied by disgust with societal practices, customs, or dictates (again, because we don't feel like we can or want to be part of what disgusts us, yet fear loneliness if we don't conform to at least a small degree.
And on and on it goes. Analyze the reasons for your depression, and you will inevitably find that you can trace them all back to fear - the most dangerous and destructive emotion on the vast plane of human experience. Yes, there are fears that are useful, like those that keep you from walking into oncoming traffic, but most of the fears we entertain, and which inhibit our spiritual growth, are utterly useless. Throw them out when you find them, and don't give them the power to convince you that they're keeping you safe. They can't. Indeed, they will destroy your peace and health if you allow it.
In the end, what will save you is hope, faith, a sense of humor, and the grace to accept that which you cannot change. Anything that depresses you also offers an opportunity to change and grow. You may not be able to change the world, but you can ALWAYS change yourself - and thereby affect all of humanity in silent, but far-reaching, ripples of positive energy.
To state it another way, fear can imprison you, but you hold the key to your cell. The instant you decide to cast out fear and replace it with hope, you're well on your way to recovery. It won't happen overnight, but trust that you WILL be all right eventually and God (or Allah, or the universe, or your soul, whatever you choose to believe) will aid your desire to get there.
Belief is everything. Fear is nothing(ness).
Depression And Stress
Make no mistake - we may have more food, education, resources, and wealth than our ancestors did, but we also have a lot more of something they wouldn't envy us - stress. In the world today, stress is an epidemic of unprecedented dimensions.
We hurry everywhere. Food is fast. Love is speed-dating and a quick divorce the moment problems arise. Hospitals and health insurance companies work as conveyor belts. TV is the new reality, while true reality is boring because it's too slow. Cell phones keep our faces turned away from our fellow human beings, and away from quiet, spiritual interaction. The economy is on the decline, yet everyone still chases dreams of a massive house, a nicer car, or wearing the latest fashions. Jobs aren't 9-5 any more - they're 7-10 because of long commutes and the workload that comes home with us due to ever-increasing demands.
Is it any wonder depression has increased by more than half since our parents were children?
One way to combat depression to step away from the so-called rat race. In Buddhism, this is referred to as the practice of non-attachment. It's not what it sounds like - you can still love your family, your garden, your home, and your job. What you want to avoid, however, is becoming so attached to an idea that you entire being hinges upon its actualization or continued presence. For example, if you chase the idea of owning a bigger, nicer house, what will prevent you from wanting an even bigger, even nicer house once you have it? For that matter, what if you'll never have the financial freedom to afford said house? Will you be unhappy, or even downright depressed, because you couldn't have what you wanted?
Throw away the idea that happiness comes from the outside or lay at some nebulous point in the future. Instead, adopt the stance that true happiness must always come from within you. Nothing you can buy in the world has the power to bring you ultimate spiritual peace, and the faster you move through life, the more of the small, miraculous moments you end up missing. Depression is a world obsessed with speed is almost a foregone conclusion unless you remember where and who you truly are. Here. Now. Alive.
(As an aside: There is nothing wrong with dreaming, of course. The problem lay within convincing yourself that you cannot be happy until you've achieved your dreams.)
So slow down a little. Appreciate what you have. Focus on the beauty of this moment. Take a deep breath, and be happy that nothing menaces your life while you're reading this article - if something were, you wouldn't be here. Sit down and talk with those you love using your mouth, not technology. Smile at strangers, and meet the world with open arms and open eyes. Most of the time, the world will smile back, but even if it doesn't, you'll be all right. And should you find yourself saddened or depressed, acknowledge that you're simply experiencing one of many possible emotions, and that you are capable of being happy again (as surely you have been before) if you just stop the constant wanting. What could you need badly enough to let it ruin your entire life? Don't give clinical depression a foothold - live for today, and have faith that today lived well will make your tomorrow that much brighter.