Depression and Meditation

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Feathers
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Tools for managing depression

Post by Feathers » Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:24 pm

Starting a thread to develop on Martin's suggestion here.

As a fair few people on this board seem to suffer depression, and even more of us probably know someone who does, I would like to make this a thread to exchange suggestions for ways to treat depression: what type of meditation has (or hasn't) helped, other techniques, tips etc. I would like if possible to keep it quite practical - if we can avoid endless discussion of 'what is a feeling' / 'who is feeling this' etc. that would be nice . . .

Also, if people participating can remember that a some people in the discussion may be currently suffering with depression, and choose their words and manners accordingly, that would be considerate.

Lastly: if you're reading this, think you have depression, and haven't yet sought professional, please please do so. This thread is for support and tips, not to replace the (very necessary) professional treatment.

Useful Links and Resources

I'm going to keep updating this as I go, and as the thread goes.

Meditation / Buddhist
Wildmind - Meditation and Depression - very useful. Thanks to Spiny Norman for this one :smile:

Medical
Crazy Meds - brilliant resource on all things pharmaceutical

NHS depression resources and info

Funny (because if you don't laugh . . .)
Hyperbole and a Half - a very witty blog that includes a couple of fantastic posts on depression. Might be especially useful for explaining it to non-sufferers
Last edited by Feathers on Tue Aug 19, 2014 8:04 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Dhammawheel thread on tools for managing depression

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Spiny Norman
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Re: Tools for managing depression

Post by Spiny Norman » Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:37 pm

Some interesting material here: http://www.wildmind.org/applied/depression
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Depression and Meditation

Post by martinfrank » Mon Aug 25, 2014 6:06 pm

In other threads several members mentioned their experience with depression. Feathers and others suggested we make a thread about Depression and Meditation.

Some posters suggested that depression is a chemical imbalance best cured with medications, others suggested that a little or a lot of meditation will do the job.

My experience is sort of both: I took and take the usual medications and I feel that they help me not to fall into abysses of sadness and despair. Before I took the medications I would start crying in the middle of a shopping center without any apparent reason, just feeling terribly sad. Medication cured that nicely.

I also stayed in a monastery and meditated several hours a day and this gave me a break that I could go without medication for several months.

What is your experience? What works/worked for you? Which kind of meditation works best for you? What activities do you find helpful/not helpful?

I add a list of things which I found helpful / not helpful:

Helpful (I will edit this list)
Easy meditation like 5-12 minutes of apanasati
Maté (the herbal tea from Argentina)
Dark chocolate in small quantities
Green tea
Sleep early/rise early (I manage to sleep early, about the rising early we'll talk after I get up)
Sunlight and light therapy
Warmth
Acupuncture
Perilla Oil
"customized" Vitamins
Eating light
Bringing up a kid
Having a dog (somebody is happy when you come home)
Learning/playing a musical instrument
Expecting less from oneself. Do only 1-3 things in the morning, another 1-3 things in the afternoon... I mean office work, not open and close one eye, open and close the other eye, repeat the exercise!

Not helpful (I will edit this list)
Alcohol
Smoking
Drugs (like hashish, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and other "party-drugs"
Eating parts of killed animals
Sugar, particularly white sugar
Peanuts
Pointless Internet surfing
Heated discussion (including web discussion)
Sex
Sleeping late
Low voltage bulbs, cloudy sky, Scandinavian winters
Ambitious goals, long ToDO lists.
Watching TV
News beyond what you can get from the CNB or Reuters headlines.
Last edited by martinfrank on Tue Aug 26, 2014 9:14 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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thepea
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by thepea » Mon Aug 25, 2014 6:17 pm

If you state that drugs(medications) are helpful, then you should clarify what drugs are not helpful. It may be a little confusing for some. It may also be helpful to discuss the active ingredients in what you are calling medication vs. the active ingredients of what you classify as drugs. There may be some links to specific foods one could avoid or get more of.

Hot water bottles, exposure to sunlight(vitamin d) raise the spirits.

"Bringing up a kid" only if they tasted good going down. Humour can also be helpful.

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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by martinfrank » Tue Aug 26, 2014 7:14 am

Thank you for pointing out that "drugs" has different meanings in different locations.

I am not a psychiatrist. I know which prescription medications work(ed) for me. An experienced psychiatrist will know much better what "drugs" work best for which patient.

You are right about sunlight. Kindly send some to Zurich, Switzerland. It is now 13° and raining.

English is not my first language. The good thing about kids and animals is that they disturb you which keeps you from spending hours on the same thoughts. If you have an attack of major depression, the responsibility may be too much for you.

What foods do you recommend / not recommend?

Hot water bottles? How to use them?

Humour is a good idea too... you mean like Robin Williams?
Last edited by martinfrank on Tue Aug 26, 2014 7:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by Spiny Norman » Tue Aug 26, 2014 7:18 am

martinfrank wrote: You are right about sunlight. Kindly send some to Zurich, Switzerland. It is now 13° and raining.
It's not much better here in the UK. ;)
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by thepea » Tue Aug 26, 2014 11:05 am

martinfrank wrote: You are right about sunlight. Kindly send some to Zurich, Switzerland. It is now 13° and raining.
Done, it should be there Thursday.
martinfrank wrote: The good thing about kids and animals is that they disturb you which keeps you from spending hours on the same thoughts. If you have an attack of major depression, the responsibility may be too much for you.
I feel we should do with less, and allow animals to live amongst their own kind, and not be forced to live with unhappy people. I work in many peoples homes and see to many animals ignored and mistreated because of their owners mental disease. Not to say some animals and some people are not a great fit, but I do not wish to encourage those feeling down to rush out and get a pet to raise their spirits.
martinfrank wrote:What foods do you not recommend?
Eggs, meat and dairy?
martinfrank wrote:Hot water bottles? How to use them?
Fill a bottle with hot/warm water and place on the area of discomfort. Feeling anxious place on the chest, it should distract you from the discomfort and help to raise your spirits.
martinfrank wrote:Humour is a good idea too... you mean like Robin Williams?
Yes, if you find his comedy funny.

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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by Feathers » Tue Aug 26, 2014 1:07 pm

Hiya, I started a thread in the wellness and fitness section - mind if I copy over your original post . . . or could mods merge the two threads (don't mind which section they end up in)

Edit to add: here's the thread I started: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=21580
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by martinfrank » Tue Aug 26, 2014 1:22 pm

thepea wrote:
martinfrank wrote: You are right about sunlight. Kindly send some to Zurich, Switzerland. It is now 13° and raining.
Done, it should be there Thursday.
martinfrank wrote: The good thing about kids and animals is that they disturb you which keeps you from spending hours on the same thoughts. If you have an attack of major depression, the responsibility may be too much for you.
I feel we should do with less, and allow animals to live amongst their own kind, and not be forced to live with unhappy people. I work in many peoples homes and see to many animals ignored and mistreated because of their owners mental disease. Not to say some animals and some people are not a great fit, but I do not wish to encourage those feeling down to rush out and get a pet to raise their spirits.
I agree with you. A dog is not a medication (and a child is not a marriage repair kit).
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Re: Tools for managing depression

Post by martinfrank » Wed Aug 27, 2014 8:27 am

Dear Feathers

I apologize. I didn't see your thread. Should we combine them? I agree but I don't know how to do it. I will study your links.

(In the office... should start working)

Thanks and greetings

Martin
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Aug 27, 2014 8:50 am

Merged. Now do you want this in "Open Dhamma" or in the "Wellness?"
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by martinfrank » Wed Aug 27, 2014 9:06 am

tiltbillings wrote:Merged. Now do you want this in "Open Dhamma" or in the "Wellness?"
Thanks, Ben, to me Open Dhamma seems better but if Feathers or somebody else prefers Wellness that's well for me too. Martin
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by Feathers » Wed Aug 27, 2014 5:05 pm

I don't mind :-)
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by ancientbuddhism » Wed Aug 27, 2014 6:41 pm

I have had to deal with ‘depression’ for many years. I had tried some prescribed medications, but these only left me with side-effects or other issues.

What turned out to be effective for me over a decade ago was a strengthened effort in meditation practice. Insight practices, guided by the classical ānāpānasati and satipaṭṭhāna models which lend emphasis on calm and insight working together, gave me the ability to parse out the experience of physical ‘depressive’ conditions from mental habits seeking commentary to meet these.

What I had noticed through ‘sitting with’ depression, is that there is the physical and sensate experience of depression (which martinfrank gave helpful advise on how to manage here), and then there is the narrative, conceptually driven mental habits that spin one out of control. When experienced through practice in this way, the nature of narrative and emotional based phenomena are seen as ephemeral and fall away. Whereby the physical states, although may still be present and run its natural course, is manageable.

A couple of helpful sutta resources:

The Discourse on the Dart – Salla Sutta

Discourse on Agitation with Taking-up – Upādāparitassanā Sutta
I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by Mkoll » Wed Aug 27, 2014 8:02 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:What I had noticed through ‘sitting with’ depression, is that there is the physical and sensate experience of depression (which martinfrank gave helpful advise on how to manage here), and then there is the narrative, conceptually driven mental habits that spin one out of control. When experienced through practice in this way, the nature of narrative and emotional based phenomena are seen as ephemeral and fall away. Whereby the physical states, although may still be present and run its natural course, is manageable.
I think that's a good way of describing it. I struggled with depression as a teenager and I remember it was the emotional stories I made up about myself that really led to the most suffering and closest to an actual contemplation of suicide.

I'd also agree that a diligent meditation practice is the most effective way to deal with depression.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

Feathers
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by Feathers » Wed Aug 27, 2014 8:25 pm

Going to add my own experience briefly:
I was officially diagnosed with depression in 2007, although looking back it was popping up now and then for years before. It mainly manifests as lack of energy, wanting to sleep constantly, and not going a day without the thought of suicide popping into my head (mostly it's just 'are we suicidal today? nope, right, carry on' but obviously sometimes it gets worse).

Things I have found helpful:

- mood stabiliser: probably saved my sanity
- anti depressant: took forever to find one that helped and didn't have horrendous side effects, but it definitely does help. If I'm not on it, the thoughts about suicide get a lot more insistent.
- 'casual' counselling (in both cases, by volunteers). May not have 'solved' anything, but got me through the end of my undergrad degree and, a few years later, my masters.
- exploring and learning: sometimes I can't take in more than a sentence or two before I lose focus and energy, but pushing on and trying to develop my understanding (of myself, depression, the world) does help.

Things I have found unhelpful:

- alcohol
- cognitive behavioural therapy and (very badly taught) mindfulness based CBT. Although these are wonderful for some people, so I don't want to go writing them off for everyone. But don't beat yourself up if you 'fail' CBT.
- being raised Christian

martinfrank, I'd be really interested in hearing more about acupuncture - you're not the first person I've heard recommending it, but I admit I'm a little skeptical.
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by martinfrank » Wed Aug 27, 2014 9:18 pm

Feathers wrote:martinfrank, I'd be really interested in hearing more about acupuncture - you're not the first person I've heard recommending it, but I admit I'm a little skeptical.
Acupuncture / Laser Acupuncture and Depression

My experience with it: My QiGong teacher said that his wife was a Chinese doctor and that she could maybe help me. (QiGong is a first class idea if you suffer from depression). I tried and it worked. What she did was a combination of Laser Acupuncture and traditional needle acupuncture (if I remember right not at the same time). It felt like the electricity in the body would be balanced. Relief, relaxation which would last several days. I did it every week until the worst was over (after maybe one year).

This year I brought a deeply suicidal man to the same doctor and it worked similarly. After one hour (and more so next day) he looked refreshed and was no more suicidal or about to cry. This guy couldn't take any anti-depressant medication because he was too sick from unrelated other medical problems. He is going every few days to see the Chinese doctor and he looks fine. He is also taking two (very expensive) Indian herbal anti-depressants now which may help too. But to me it seems that Acupuncture made the big difference.

Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine as studied at the Chinese Universities. I wouldn't trust anybody who isn't a fully qualified Chinese doctor. My Chinese doctor is also a fully qualified MD (Dr. med.) of Western medicine.

My main advice is that if you get into a suicidal depression, do everything which could help you at the same time! Book Thai massage and Acupuncture and the Psychiatrist and QiGong and Light therapy... at least one thing per day until you get better. Don't do it step by step! Attack the depression immediately and from all possible angles (before you are to depressed to make a phone call)!

Regarding medications my experience is that during the attack it is best to take ENOUGH medication to stop the depression. With meditation it is possible to reduce the medication later in small steps.

I also find anapanasati most helpful, plus mantra repeating to subdue recycling of black thoughts, plus anicca-anatta (without dukkha) to relax.
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by Feathers » Mon Sep 22, 2014 1:57 pm

Just adding some thoughts that have cropped up about using meditation/mindfulness to 'treat' depression, which have probably already been realised by everyone else, but today it really clicked into place for me . . .

Use it, but with caution. I know this has been discussed before (e.g. the dark night stuff) but it really came home to me while reading the pdf from this thread

When I spent a few months being given mindfulness-based CBT, I didn't get along with it for a whole host of reasons. But I wonder if one of the reasons I've never been able to click with it, then or since, is due to its implication.

The therapist was trying to make me let 'the depression' be, the way we might sit and meditate and allow anger/amusement/hot/cold etc. to just arise and fall away, perhaps noting, perhaps just observing, not getting involved.

What the therapist didn't seem to grasp, and what I think I intuitively sensed, was that the logical conclusion of this is the eradication of 'I'. If we strip away 'I am depressed', why not also remove 'I am happy', 'I am stupid', 'I am clever', 'I am English', 'I am . . . ' Feelings of depression have exactly the same degree of reality, and unreality, as any of those.

I've always been wary of mindfulness as a treatment for depression. Now I think it's clicked for me just why that is: it could be an awesome treatment, but only if the therapist and the patient are prepared to go all the way (and if the therapist is able to provide skillful guidance)

There is a certain irony, in someone who frequently fantasizes about death, being terrified of not existing :tongue:
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Re: Depression and Meditation

Post by Spiny Norman » Mon Sep 22, 2014 5:09 pm

"My religion is very simple - my religion is ice-cream."
Dairy Lama

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