This article is written on the occasion of September 10, 2015–World Suicide Prevention Day.
I recently heard a story about how a young student at University committed suicide in order to hide from his parents that he was not attending medical school. After the suicide the family realized that their son was mentally ill or ‘depressed’, but it was too late to change anything. There is a judgement in society about people who suffer from depression. They may feel that they are put into a different category than people with a physical disease. In our cultures, people with a physical illness are thought of as warriors—even empathized and pampered for having the disease. But society doesn’t like depression. People with depression often withdraw from social contact, convinced that people must hate them.
Suicide is ending of the struggle to find a safe ‘place’ on Earth. Most people think that wanting to commit suicide is a mental illness that can be ‘treated’. Those are such cold clinical terms. ‘Mental illness?’ ‘treated’? Treated how? We can’t put a stent through the soul? Or a little microchip in the brain or maybe a bunch of pills at night and in the morning? Depression has complex social, environmental and genetic causes and a uni-dimensional, clinical treatment does not provide the kind of clean and simple results that we would like.
Brave souls own up to depression and then try to get better…it is a path of courage in a world where mental illness is stigmatized. Very often depression may become a disease in the body before it is acknowledged (our mind body connection can create stress related illnesses). Then physical disease is chemically treated without attention paid to the emotional and mental causes or effects of the physical manifestation.
In my personal journey with the monster called depression there were days, months and years when the first thought upon awakening was ‘ok, another day. How to want to start it? when to end it?’ A sense of duty kept me going. Until one fine day I decided to do what makes me happy. That changed things around from being a victim of circumstances to having purpose. Purpose, they say, can end depression. Lack of purpose is a recurring thought that one did not matter–the subconscious thought–that my being had no impact or belonging other than as a function of my skills or personal attributes, made me very depressed. Once I realized that my desire was to find a sense of worthiness, I was able to take the first steps to move out of depressive patterns.
For me, hell was to be a widget in a gigantic machinery of patriarchy over which I had no control. I had to find a measure of control over my life and choices to feel okay. This perspective is found in feminist theory within psychology. The right to selfhood can be especially harder in collectivist cultures, where identity is derived from others.
Each person is very individual in what causes their pain. Yet, common issues that cause misery are a/feeling unaccepted as oneself, 2/feeling unheard or unseen, 3/unsupported or 4/unprocessed guilt feelings. These causes are intricately woven into the individual’s story or life experience. So, how can we give blanket prescriptions to address deep seated personal root causes?.
I’ve read articles about depression that tell people to exercise and offer other tips for coping with depression. But, from the perspective of holistic therapy–for example Buddhist psychology- and Cognitive therapy–the fundamental cause of depression is ‘a wrong idea’. Unless that idea is explored and then either validated or rejected by the psyche, depression will continue to haunt, like the big lion in the picture. Therefore, behavioral interventions such as exercise are wonderful but do not get to the cognitive and trauma based causes of depression. Carl Jung and existentialists would say that it is rooted somewhere deep in the psyche where a person is not integrated with their shadow side. Holistics like myself would say that depression is there for spiritual growth, and depression belongs not just to a single person but all the forces that came to create that person.
What I’ve witnessed is the following:
- Most people have hidden emotional trauma and depression can be an adaptation to it. Addictions are often coping mechanisms for trauma. Other than substance abuse, socially accepted addictions such as food, shopping and unattainable romantic attachments are commonly used mechanisms to cope with depression.
- People use many different coping mechanisms for depression. Fantasy is one of the most used coping devices. Fantasy can be that online affair or secret crush on someone or spirituality—for example the born again fundamentalist. Some fantasies are harmful and negative, whereas other fantasies help people cope effectively.
- I believe that the role of poor mental health in causing social problems is under-rated. There is a lot of money spent on weapons to protect people from crazy people ‘out there’ but not a lot of money spent to prevent depression and improve mental health!
- Depression can have a million reasons, ranging from sudden shock at losing a loved one, abuse- both sexual or emotional and or uncertainty in life. Yet, the root cause of depression is not the external events, but the way the mind processes the event. Our minds and personalities are different. Self-worth is a key factor in recovery of any mental illness.
- In general, we need to be more vigilant in imposing belief systems that aren’t inclusive and respectful of our differences. Social injustice erodes self worth. Ranking and comparisons may make people more obedient and try to please people more, but it does not help people have a stronger sense of self worth.
- Numbing the pain or hiding it does not work. In fact it can be the reason behind more advanced and prolonged depression.
Top 5 recommendations for healing depression
- Ownership. Emotions aren’t about anyone else in your life except you. Seeking help for one’s emotions is an act of courage. The moment you take responsibility for how YOU feel, you can change your life.
- Find a professional and invest in getting better. Getting a prescription can help when needed, but prescription drugs alone cannot change everything. The deep seated patterns that are behind depression need to be looked at holistically because the individual, the family and society are interlinked.
- Patience. Understand that something that caused you suffering will take some effort on your and the therapists part to help heal. If diagnosed later in life, it can take a year or even 5-10 years for a complete and total recovery. Many times people also need to make real and practical changes to be able to create the happiness that they want. And all these changes are steps on the path towards a happy life—they do take time.
- Hope. Never, ever give up. I’ve seen people make full and total recovery because of therapy and self-care.
- Meditate. Meditation is an evidence based and incredible way to heal anxiety and depression. Learn more with Meditation 101 (a free course).