Buddhism vs Depression

from The Buddhist Blog:
Buddhism and Sitting with Depression
As some of you may know I have been diagnosed for awhile now with schizoaffective disorder. It is a brain disorder which combines symptoms of schizophrenia with symptoms of bipolar disorder. Often I can go from feeling on top of the world to the darkest, coldest hole of depression. I take 6 different medications that help a great deal but often I still have episodes despite them.

Well, yesterday was one of those days of being in that scary hole of depression and so I have been doing some research into how Buddhism helps us deal with depression. Here’s some of what I have found.

The prevailing way to deal with depression in Buddhism seems to be meditating on compassion and and loving-kindness towards our depression. It is very easy for me to have compassion and loving-kindness toward others but often I forget to have compassion and love toward myself. This is probably one of the reasons that my physiological depression becomes worse with a lack of self-love and compassion.

So this morning I sat with my depression and just showed it love and compassion. I talked to it and told it that I understood it was warning me to "stop and listen." I told it that I loved it and thanked it for being so concerned about me and my life but that it could now go. I understood the lesson it was trying to teach me. I no longer needed it to fertilize the seeds of happiness that would soon grown and blossom out of the depression.

This worked very well as I could literally feel the heavy sorrow leave my shoulders and slowly drift and lift away like a dense fog. This is does not always work but it does indeed help us relax for a time and be at peace. Now, I do not for one minute want to convey that I am an expert on mood disorders or that meditation alone will "cure" depression. However, it is a powerful tool to add to our arsenal in dealing with such emotions.

I think some depression is very much brought upon ourselves for being somewhat selfish and egocentric. That is hard for me to swallow sometimes but I feel it to often to be true. Although most of my depression seems to come from my chemical imbalance I know that I make it worse by feeling selfish pitty for myself. As if somehow I am the only one who struggles with depression or that no one could really understand how much pain I was suffering. The truth is, however, that we have all been there at one time or another. Maybe not in the extremes of a chemical imbalance but enough to relate to it. In moments like these I often remind myself that others have it much worse then I do and I am then able to turn the depression into compassion for others who are suffering worse.

If you are going through depression right now in reading this post know that I have often been right where you are right now and that through meditation and sometimes medical treatment it can be very transformative.

You are not alone in your depression even though you feel like it. I am there with you in the dark sitting beside you with my arms around you. Lean on me and others until you can sit with it and see meditation as a light in the darkness, an island in a rough ocean.

-Peace to all beings-

from Psychology Today:
Buddhism and the Blues

The Buddhist view of how the mind works is somewhat different from the traditional Western view. Western psychology pretty much holds to the belief that things like attention and emotion are fixed and immutable. Buddhism sees the components of the mind more as skills that can be trained. This view has increasing support from modern neuroscience, which is almost daily providing new evidence of the brain’s capacity for change and growth.

Buddhism uses intelligence to control the emotions. Through meditative practices, awareness can be trained and focused on the contents of the mind to observe ongoing experience. Such techniques are of growing interest to Western psychologists, who increasingly see depression as a disorder of emotional mismanagement. In this view, attention is hijacked by negative events and then sets off a kind of chain reaction of negative feeling, thinking and behavior that has its own rapidity and inevitability.

Techniques of awareness permit the cultivation of self-control. They allow people to break the negative emotional chain reaction and head off the hopelessness and despair it leads to. By focusing attention, it is possible to monitor your environment, recognize a negative stimulus and act on it the instant it registers on awareness. While attention as traditional psychologists know it can be an exhausting mental activity, as Buddhists practice it it actually becomes a relaxing and effortless enterprise.

One way of meditation is to use breathing techniques in which you focus on the breathing and let any negative stimulus just go by—instead of bringing it into your working memory, where you are likely to sit and ruminate about it and thus amplify its negativity. It’s a way of unlearning the self-defeating ways you somehow acquired of responding catastrophically to negative experiences.

Evidence increasingly suggests that meditation techniques are highly effective at helping people recover from a bout of depression and especially useful in preventing recurrences. Medication may be needed during the depths of an acute episode to jump-start brain systems, but at best "antidepressants are a halfway house," says Alan Wallace, Ph.D., head of the Santa Barbara Institute for the Study of Consciousness. But meditation retrains the mind to allow ongoing control over the content of thoughts and feelings.

from http://www.wildmind.org/applied/depression/:

Along with stress (which I’ve written about elsewhere on Wildmind), depression is another deeply unpleasant, and sometimes devastating, experience that motivates people to learn to meditate.

Can meditation be useful for those who have a tendency to feel depressed? And can those whose depression is caused by chemical imbalances (e.g. those who live with bipolar disorder or manic-depression) usefully meditate?

I am convinced that meditation can be very helpful for depression, whether the depression is situational (caused by external events) or organic (caused by chemical imbalances in the brain).

I am not a mental health professional, and make no claims for any expertise in the field of mental health in general, or with depression in particular. However, I know meditators who have struggled with depression, and they have found their practice to be a great support. I’ve also experienced periods of depression myself, and mindfulness has been an invaluable tool for emerging from that state.

However there may also be times when it’s best for those who are depressed not to meditate — for example when experiencing an extreme bout of depression it is probably not a good idea to try to meditate.

Although meditation can be very helpful in relieving depression or in preventing depression from arising, the act of focusing inwards can actually heighten feelings of despair. I would suggest not trying to meditate when you are extremely depressed, and especially not at times that you are having any thoughts of self-harm.

It’s also best even if you are feeling mildly depressed that you try to find a teacher with whom you can work closely. By this I mean someone that you can have close to daily contact with, either by phone or email. Even when someone’s not depressed it can be challenging to learn new skills, and the depressive tendency to focus on what’s wrong can lead to feelings that the meditation isn’t working, even when it is. You may need an experienced coach to help you work with your frustration.

As one experienced meditator said, “Meditation while clinically depressed can result in intensification of feelings of despondency, hopelessness, and negativity generally. The metta practice is theoretically a good thing, but in practice it can be a nightmare if all you feel is self-hatred!”

I agree, and if meditation seems to be making things worse, then I would advise you to stop immediately.

However, I have worked with several extremely depressed students who have benefited from meditation when they have had constant guidance and feedback from an experienced teacher to make sure that they are using meditative techniques in a helpful way.

Sometimes people have a pattern of using their depression as an excuse to stay depressed, and it’s vital to unlearn that pattern. Learn the new pattern of working within depression to change your mental states. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep experiencing what you’ve always experienced, so start making a change now. Don’t expect immediate change, and don’t give up too easily. Change may not always come quickly, but it will come if you make an effort.

With depression that is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, there is a component both of “enforced” depression, where the brain simply is predisposed to generate unpleasant emotional states, and also of “habitual” depression, where we unconsciously add to the existing unpleasant emotions by the way that we react. Medication can help take care of “enforced” depression, while therapy and meditation can help take care of “habitual” depression.

from http://www.mcmanweb.com/anger.htm:

Depression, goes the old saying, is anger turned inward. Various studies have found anger attacks to be common in 40 to 60 percent of those with unipolar and bipolar depression.

Dr Tucker-Ladd points out that there are distinctions between "exploders" and "swallowers," between those who let ‘er rip and those who hold it in. Healthy venting can provide a constructive release for anger, but may also add fuel to the fire. On the other side of the coin, there is a danger in bottling your anger, as it can turn inward on yourself, resulting in hypertension, high blood pressure, and depression.


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