Depression is a thorny subject, mainly because approximately 5% of the world’s population suffers from depression, at any one point in time. So right now, according to the World Health Authority (WHO), there are approximately 350 million people worldwide who are suffering from depression. Now this is obviously an estimation, the real number could be higher or lower, but one thing is for sure and that is that depression and symptoms of anxiety and mental distress are as common as the common cold!
Yet for some strange reason, the TV is full of advertisements for colds and flu’s and anti-allergies and how to boost your kids immunity etc., but there isn’t any ads relating to depression, anxiety and other symptoms of mental distress. While depression is no longer the taboo subject it used to be; back in the old days when if you told someone you were depressed they would give you the immortal words “pull yourself together”, things haven’t exactly advanced very much beyond go see your doctor and keep on taking your pills every day!
This pill popping approach reached its zenith back in the 90’s with the advent of Prozac, which was hailed as a wonder drug and which became so popular in some parts of the united states, with a significant percentage of an entire town been put on Prozac1!
So there are two extremes here. One is to stick your head in the sand and the other is to regard depression as an unavoidable human condition, whereby you take anti-depressants with the same vigor and frequency as taking your vitamin C pill every day. Vitamin C works on the common cold and your anti-depressant works on your common everyday depression!
Needless to say if we want to lead full, meaningful human lives, we have to go beyond the pill taking mentality. While pills are a great crutch, they are not a great cure; in fact they are not a cure at all. If you have to take anti-depressants, then do so, but try to work toward a cure, if that’s possible.
The first Step to Coping Effectively with Depression Begins with Understanding the Nature of Depression
Human beings are complex and the aetiology of depression is also complex, but we have to make some attempt to understand depression, if we are to have any chance of overcoming it.
Why do we get depressed?
Why are 5% of the world’s population depressed at any one time?
Depression is not our natural state; actually happiness is our natural state. So what takes place in our psyche that makes us feel so miserable in the first place?
First of all we have everyday miseries to consider. Having no money, family problems, relationship problems, living in a war torn country, ill health and war are all perfectly good examples of everyday misery. Certainly these conditions will make anyone depressed, but what we term depression goes beyond these outer activities. If you maintain a depressed state for more than several weeks, it is regarded as clinical depression, meaning that you are now depressed beyond the scope of everyday misery. Also many people feel miserable when externally everything appears to be fine.
To better understand the cause of depression we have to understand the workings of the unconscious mind.
The unconscious mind is a vast area within each individual which consists of many subsections. One subsection is our raw emotions and drives. Now these thought, feelings and drives (drives as in survival drive, aggression and sex drive) are overpowering and would derail society, if we gave them a chance. However, a repressive facility has developed in human beings, whereby we repress these raw drives and emotions, and so consciously we feel very even minded, even though unconsciously we are feeling many strong feelings and drives, some of which are positive in nature while others are destructive, but whichever way you look at them they are overwhelming.
Think of it this way, unless repression is present an attractive member of the other sex would produce instant stimulation and in all likelihood we would make a sexual advance on them. Which could be very inappropriate, as that person might be married, or indeed they might be a friend or even relative! So instead our mind represses this kind of thinking. This works fine to a degree. Our conscious mind is relatively free of disturbing thoughts, drives and feelings but these thoughts, drives and feelings are still there albeit they are situated below the surface!
So the mind ends up constantly struggling with the raw thoughts and feelings versus the need to fit in with the world. So the repressive facility in our mind has a policeman and this policeman is the inner critic, otherwise known as the superego. This is the voice in our head which says things like:
“Don’t do that that’s bad”
“Be a good boy/girl”
“You are a bad person”
“You are unworthy!”
Etc., etc., etc.!!!!
The purpose of the inner critic is good. It’s a buffer between the raw and potentially dangerous unconscious drives, thoughts and feelings and the needs of a sophisticated and civilised society. We have to behave and fit in, otherwise we end up living in chaos.
We might not think about it, but being able to walk down the street in relative peace and harmony and being able to sleep safely in our bed at night is a great thing. If you are living in a peaceful country, the tendency is to take this kind of thing for granted, but actually it is a great thing to be free and protected. The motto of the various police forces of the world is “to serve and protect” and by and large they do a good job of it.
Well our inner critic is also like this, but sometimes if it goes unchecked, in which case it can go into police state mode and we end up being tortured by our inner critical thoughts!
All depression ultimately comes about as a consequence of the inner critic. When we feel depressed, we tend to feel bad, low and unworthy, which is as a consequence of our inner critic going to town on us!
It’s a sort of glitch in the human make up. But that’s basically the cause of depression. So obviously everyday misery will make us feel depressed, but 5% of the world population being depressed, at any one point in time, points to a glitch in the operating system of the human mind!
Ok so Now We know What Causes Depression so What to Do About It?
Well this is where it gets a little bit tricky, because although the inner critic lies at the heart of depression, there are other energetic factors at work. But we will get back to these in a minute.
Regarding the standard advice for dealing with depression, the following steps are recommended:
1). Realise that you have a problem, that you are not the only person in the world with this problem and that it’s ok to be depressed!
2). Work on building yourself up – Read nice books, do things which nurture yourself, use positive affirmations etc.
3). Do some investigations into the ‘why’ behind your depression. This isn’t pointless navel gazing nor is it an in-depth investigation, rather we are simply talking about taking an itinerary of ‘self’. What do we mean by this? What we mean here is getting to know ourselves and our back story. Do some free psychological self-evaluation tests (there are many free tests online), read self-help books, write a life account whereby you make a quick summary of your life so far. Think and feel about the various events in your life and basically do some soul searching. The idea here is that in many cases we feel depressed because we are living a life style, which we feel we should be living, but this life style is in direct contrast to how we should be living, thus there is a clash between our critic and these thoughts and aspirations. Often in this case once we start to change our life, the depression goes away because there is no conflict, once we come to terms with what we want to do versus what we feel we have to do. For example, a person might go to medical school because they come from a family of doctors, but then they become depressed. When they do some soul searching, they realise that they hate medicine and they want to do something else instead. Once they work out their mixed feelings, between what they think they should do (become a doctor-approved by the inner critic) versus doing something else (not approved by the inner critic), the depression mysteriously ends!
4). Seek help – It is great if you can cure yourself, but often we need some external help. I went to a counsellor, for a few months, back in 1994 and it made a huge difference to my life including it putting me onto the study of psychoanalysis! So you’re not crazy, and it is unnecessary to tough out things on your own. Back in 1991-1993 I underwent an 18 month stretch of intense depression. However, I didn’t tell anybody about it, not even my closest family members, and I didn’t tell my doctor, nor did I take drugs. I toughed it out and everything worked out ok, but I am pretty sure that if I did tell my family and my doctor and if I did take anti-depressants, that the depression would have been far more short lived and far less intense. I took this course of action because I was ignorant. I didn’t want to tell anybody about my problems and in a way I didn’t know how to. At that time my mouth would open but words would not come out, it was like there was an invisible shield dividing my thoughts from my words. I didn’t know what to do, I just ridded out the pain. Its memories of this time period in my life which encouraged me to set up this blog! So seek help, you don’t have to go it alone, seek out a doctor or a friend or a family member. If they don’t give you the time of day, then seek out somebody and don’t stop until you find your feet and find a way forward.
5). Take anti-depressants – Nobody likes taking drugs, but sometimes they are a necessary evil! Take the drugs they will help. But once on them realise that they’re a crutch (you can also opt for herbal alternatives, take a look here to find out more about them), and try to get o off them. But also be sensible. Most people can come down from anti-depressants but some people have a complex make up and they have to stay on them for life. Be brave but also be sensible and stick with them, if you have to, in order to stay functional in your life!
6). Now that you’re on Anti-Depressants Try to Get of off them! – This might sound counter-intuitive but the whole reason for taking anti-depressants is that they are a crutch. The idea been that the drugs make you feel better, which in turn helps to break the negative feedback loop. So by all means take the drugs they will help, but do try and come of off them slowly after a 3 to 6month period, and make a point of doing so slowly, so as to avoid any rebound problems.
7). This too will pass – There was a famous British psychic healer, by the name of Harry Edwards, who was very active in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s who healed thousands of people. Anyway he had to deal with people from all walks of life and many of whom had to undergo very difficult and painful diseases and troubles in their lives. He used to like giving them this phrase “this too will pass” and I feel it is a wonderful phrase because depression is a sort of mental torture and one of the key factors, which will help you in overcoming depression is this thinking tactic. This too will pass reminds us that all things in life, both good and bad, come and go, so while we can’t hold onto the good things forever, it is also true to say that we cannot hold onto the bad things either. This is especially true with emotions. No matter how bad you feel, this state will pass within a few hours. Depression tends to be cyclical and usually there is a particular point in the day, when it is at its worst and often we torture ourselves by thinking it will never end and life will never get better. Well take out your stopwatch next time you feel that cloud over your head and note down when it starts shifting. There will be a definite limit, there always is as our nervous systems can only stay in this depressed emotional state for a limited period of time. So once you become aware of the limitations of the depression, you will become empowered. Yes it has a limit; yes the depression only has a hold over me for a certain period of time. Thus begins the road to recovery!
8). Connect with your Higher Power – Maybe you believe in God or maybe you don’t, but it is essential that you believe in something beyond your ego. There is a greater existence which is always present and which can help us. The problem which most of us have when we think about God, is the tendency to think of God in very religious terms and often this is hard for people to take. But we can also think about God as transpersonal being of which we are a part of and which is beyond us. Whichever way we look at it, when we try to fix everything ourselves, we struggle and suffer because our little ego can only achieve so much. But when we ask for help from God, or this higher power, suddenly the floodgates open and we receive help, which religious people would call grace. We receive the grace of God. God is always waiting to help us, but God provides us with freedom and we must ask for help. If we try to fix our own problems we become undone, but when we connect with our higher power we do receive some mysterious help, which makes even the most unbearable bearable. Why deny the help of the universe, when you have a problem ask God for assistance. Maybe you cannot cope with your depression, but God can!
Esoteric Aetiology Behind Depression
So that’s a quick summary of the basic steps, regarding how to cope with depression. But there is another more esoteric side to depression, which also explains why sometimes it can be difficult to shake a depressed state!
From an energetic stand point we all have a subtle energetic system, which runs from the base of our spine and up to the top of our head. This energy channel runs along the spinal cord and is known as the kundalini. Now western medicine will laugh at this, but it has been my personal experience that this energy system exists and that it has a profound effect upon our health, wellbeing and happiness. Like pearls on a necklace the kundalini is interspersed with chakras. The word chakra comes from the Indian word for spinning disc, so these are energy discs which are located at different parts of our body. Many sources believe different things about the charkas and it can get confusing but the general consensus is that we have 7 chakras, which are:
Base Chakra – Groundedness
Navel Chakra – Willpower/Health Power/Sex Power
Solar Plexus Chakra – The feeling brain
Throat Chakra – Self expression
Third Eye Chakra – Clarity of vision/Intuition/Decision making
Crown Chakra – Connection with the divine/Higher self
So each of these chakras should be clean, balanced and rotating dynamically. Now all of this may sound radical and esoteric to you, but before you dismiss this energy system as new age nonsense, just think of it as subtle energy, which lies behind everyday appearances. Acupuncture, for example, is quite popular even though it is based upon subtle energy systems, which modern science has yet to locate, and the medical profession accepts acupuncture. But once you mention the kundalini energy and chakras, a lot of people switch of and this is because of the new age overtones, which are expressed using these terms.
So for a minute let’s forget about the new age tag and instead rather think in terms of energy. Modern science doesn’t know everything, even though it likes to think that everything can be explained by it, which is rather a silly point of view. So aside from the new age stuff, what does the theory of kundalini energy and chakras tell us?
What they suggest is that the human being is channelling cosmic energy all of the time and that if there are imbalances in this flow, the disruption will result in ill health. Now while ill health, on a physical level, can be created by this disruption in the flow of energy, it is also possible that the mind and emotions can be clouded, because of a disruption of energy.
While I like to recommend people to follow the steps ( 1 to 8 ) above, which are common sense steps, regarding depression; however I feel that it is equally important to mention the esoteric side, because many people put a lot of work into the practical side of things and yet they still feel brow beaten. It has been my practical experience that a lot of mental stress, anxiety and depression are actually caused by a lack of energy flow in the human system. In this case no amount of positive thinking, self-help books and counselling is going to help, because quite simply the conscious ego is lacking energy, on some level, and this lack of energy result in an imbalance, which promotes a state of depression.
There are actually three possibilities at work here. Firstly there is depression as a result of a lack of energy created by an energetic blockage. Secondly there is a lack of energy created by an energetic trauma, which came about from a traumatic life experience (either in this or a previous lifetime – If you don’t like the theory of reincarnation then just think in terms of this lifetime), and the third option is as a consequence of a spiritual death and rebirth, within the psyche of the individual, which has effectively miscarried!
Ok miscarried spiritual rebirths, what’s this guy talking about?
I know it sounds crazy, but I just want to get it out there, because it’s one of those things which I see from time to time. Often a person will go through either a tough time, which results in depression and then is finally followed by an awakening or they will have an awakening followed by a tough time. This tough time is called the “dark night of the soul”. A classic book outlining the difficulties of the spiritual path and the dark night of the soul is the autobiography of the famous Roman Catholic saint, St Teresa of Avila. Although written in an old language style, this book outlines in great detail the developmental stages of the soul and how we go through periods of desolation and consolation. This book is written in a old style Christian sort of a way, so for you new agers out there it might sound weird, while for Christians it will probably sound very reassuring. Either way regardless of your spiritual or religious background, if you take the principle that God exists and that we are all the children of God, then St Teresa’ explanations start to make sense. Basically our home is God and we need to return to God, but in order to get there, stages of purification must be undergone and that God gives us trying times (desolation) which are there to clear away the sins (blockages) and that God gives us periods of consolation (periods of grace where we receive support so that we don’t become too demoralised).
So for anyone who wishes to return towards God, it’s a difficult path because these blockages must be cleared. Also, many people are growing spiritually, but it’s on an unconscious level and they don’t even realise that they are going through periods of death (of the old self) and then rebirth into a higher self after a period of desolation (dark night of the soul). If the person understands this, even on an intuitive level, they will make the grade. However, a lot of people do not realise what is happening, nor does anyone in their circle realise what is happening and so instead they get stuck in the middle and end up living in a long period of desolation.
A lot of cases of depression and also mental breakdowns are not actually as a result of external life events at all, or even as a consequence of trauma, in many cases they are still born spiritual rebirths. And sadly many people suffer for decades and judge themselves baldy, thinking that they are a failure and a mental weakling, when in fact they are undergoing a spiritual process which has been manhandled due to ignorance. So for example, rather than just putting a mental breakdown patient on drugs and trying to get them back to normalacy, they should be encouraged to do some journeying, whereby they write in a journal and share their experiences with a spiritually orientated counsellor. This person could be a professional or they could be a priest minister, nun, rabbi or imam, or even a family member or friend. In Ireland we have an ancient title for such a person which is ‘Anam Cara’, meaning spiritual friend (soul friend).
From my point of view the biggest challenge to mental health issues is the tendency towards trying to fix people up. By and large people don’t require fixing up, rather what they require is help with assimilating their life experiences and putting them into perspective, so that they can integrate different aspects of themselves.
The world in which we live today is very two dimensional and more often than not, growing and developing as a human being is not encouraged and in many cases its actively discouraged. While we have progressed, as a society, beyond the idea to “pull yourself together”, we have not progressed beyond the idea of fitting in. Most people think in terms of earthly success, of finishing studies, getting a good job, marriage kids and a pension fund. While this is not inherently bad, it is inherently small minded. We are all human beings and this means that we are complex beings with many varied needs and potential creativity, which is yet to be tapped.
Human beings tend to die of around the 70 mark, but if we could continue to live for Hundreds of years, we would continue to grow and develop, because that’s our nature, our nature is to grow and develop and often we get stuck along the way and these results in states of anxiety and depression!
Final Thoughts on Coping with Depression
Ok this has been a long article and we appear to be looking at depression from a million angles. In summation I would like to reassert the practical steps listed above, as a good starting point for copping with depression. But I would also like to reiterate that human beings have a complex subtle energetic system, which is little understood by modern science and that blockages in this are common and need to be worked through, in most cases.
Furthermore the causes of energetic blockages can be varied and do often come about as a result of mystical expenses, which have not being recognised or worked on.
In most cases depression can be completely cured, but in some cases depressed states have to be worked through over a long period of time, and often what lies behind the state of depression is not simply ordinary everyday human misery, but rather it is a failure to work through and assimilate life experiences. Also the assimilation of life experiences can be a difficult and time consuming process.
So if you are unlucky enough to suffer from long-term depression, it is quite likely that there are some aspects of your life, which you have to work through and it is also possible that this state of depression will continue in some form or other for years to come. However, the good news is that even in the most severe cases, the level of depression can be reduced and to some degree be controlled and made tolerable by the use of drugs, natural remedies and also journeying through life issues. By doing so, even the most severe depression can shift to a lighter shade of grey and it can become more of a gloomy, anxious state rather than an acute highly depressive state.
I know that this doesn’t sound fantastic, but I am speaking here about the most severe cases. But also we have to become philosophical. I opened this article by saying that the natural state of being for a human being is happiness, so why unhappiness for so many people?
Well this is a complex question, but all I can say is that if you take the perspective that God exists and that we are all the children of God, then the theme of working through blockages, in order to move back toward God and that this life is a journey towards this final destination, should provide you with some solace. On the other hand if you are an atheist, then think in terms of the amazingness of the human being and that such a complex being with such an amazing potential, has so much work to do in order to fulfil this potential.
Society sells us this easy image of everyday happiness, based upon the assumption of the two parent, two kid families which completely overlooks the wide array of human expressiveness. If we take the opinion that our society is narrow minded and over materialistic in nature, then this frees us up to realising that even if don’t believe in God, that life is a journey and a journey is not always a bed of roses. We are here to grow and develop and sometimes this growth requires extensive periods of cultivation, which can be painful.
In this article on understanding depression, I have purposeful taken a very wide viewpoint because really it’s an enormously broad subject. Any condition which affects 5% of the entire population of the Earth, at any one time, must be an amazing complex subject. I wanted in this article to provide you with some viewpoints and useful tips, so as to respect the complexity of each person, rather than give out pat answers, which will only help a minority of people.
If there is one piece of advice which I can give you to take away, it is this. Don’t give up. Hang in there. There is more and better to come, but you might have to work through some tough periods, in order to get there, but it is worth getting there. Where there is as the ‘there’ will vary from individual to individual, but the ‘there’ is always about your individual destiny and a fulfilment of certain aspirations towards integration, which are taking place within you as human being!
- Back in 1994, the town of WENATCHEE, Washington, a town with a population 21000 popele at that time, came to prominenece when one Dr Goodwin, a pschiatirst put 600 people on prozac. The twon became known as “prosac town’ after this incident.