January 25, 2013 | Comment
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Spiritual Dimensions of Mental Health

Using Spirituality to Combat Depression & Suicide

Depression and its lethal consequence, suicide, are major public health problems affecting millions of individuals around the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that with proper care, psychosocial assistance and medication, millions of people with mental disorders, including depression, could begin to lead normal lives – even where resources are scarce. Treatment may include both medication and psychological therapy. Raja Yoga meditation as taught by the Brahma Kumaris is seen as a powerful tool to support an individual’s recovery from these conditions. The spiritual dimension is extremely important in our individual and collective psyches. Spirituality shapes our existence, our purpose in life and answers the question “Who Am I”.

A Global Problem

Suicide is a major and largely preventable public health problem affecting millions around the world, according to the WHO. One person dies every 40 seconds by committing suicide (International Association for Suicide Prevention, 2012). In the USA, suicide is the tenth leading cause of all deaths (National Institute of Mental Health, 2012). As life has become increasingly fast-paced and complicated, many individuals find it too difficult to cope with the pressures of a soured relationship, academic failure, indebtedness, unemployment, hopelessness, and shame or guilt. However, stress alone does not cause suicide.

Depression as a Risk Factor for Suicide

There are many factors that put someone at-risk for suicide. Chief among these are depression and other mental disorders, often exacerbated by substance abuse. Depression is a modern malady affecting millions around the world. It ranges from an occasional disturbance of mood to a continuous, severe mood disorder afflicting all spheres of life. The most lethal consequence of depression is suicide. In 2012, the World Health Assembly called for a “comprehensive, coordinated response to mental disorders at a country level” (World Health Organization, 2012). The WHO states that with proper care, psychosocial assistance and medication, tens of millions of people with mental disorders, including depression, could begin to lead normal lives – even where resources are scarce.

Recent WHO studies have suggested that 15% of the general population from high-income countries (compared to 11% for low/middle-income countries) were likely to get depression over their lifetime with nearly 6% experiencing depression in the last year. Major depressive episodes (MDE) were elevated in high-income countries (28% compared to 20%) and were especially high (over 30%) in France, the Netherlands, and the USA. The country with the lowest incidence was China at 12% but, in contrast, MDE were very common in India, at almost 36% (Science Daily, 2011).

Clinical symptoms of depression include withdrawal from social activities, crying frequently, suicidal thoughts, disturbed sleep, poor appetite, feelings of worthlessness, general tiredness, restlessness, lack of interest, blaming oneself for problems, preoccupation with guilt or health, low energy, slowed mental functions, and/or reduced emotional responses. Subclinical depression is a much more common condition that involves recurrence of negative thoughts, feelings of guilt and self-blame, ideas of worthlessness and emptiness, lack of self-esteem or confidence, fatigue, little zest for life, and low mood. Depression as a precursor or consequence is also seen in a large percentage of alcohol or substance users. It may afflict women more than men, and especially the elderly. Teenagers are also susceptible to depression, although it may manifest as conduct disorders, body image distortions, inability to do well academically, disturbed interpersonal relationships and job problems. There is also a significant interaction between depression and physical health. Depression is associated with Hypertension, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Peptic Ulcers and auto immune disorders. It also reduces the ability of the body to heal or fight infections. While there is known genetic vulnerability to major/clinical/severe/ bipolar depression, the triggering or precipitation happens by internal or external stress. Unhealthy life styles, imbalance of personal and professional life, insecurities in relationships, extreme work pressures, dwindling social support along with unrealistic expectations, negative self-talk, lack of self-esteem, constant multitasking, helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness are the breeding ground in which seeds of depression germinate.

Treating Depression Physically, Mentally, and Spiritually

Depression needs to be treated once it has occurred. This can be done using both medication and therapy. In acute and severe depression, medical management consisting of medication, adequate sleep, diet and physical activity would be required. Therapy consists of improving self-esteem, breaking negative self-talk, enhancing cognition, improving negative patterns of thought & behaviors, emotional upliftment, improving interpersonal behaviors and becoming hopeful about the future. It may also include shedding past negative thoughts, memories, emotions and behaviors. It may also mean letting go of resentments, jealousies, comparisons, and feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness.

The authors have been engaged for more than 30 years in understanding how a spiritual lifestyle can support physical and psychological treatment for depression. Hundreds of thousands of people across the world have benefited from Raja Yoga taught by the Brahma Kumaris for the past 76 years in over 8,500 centers in more than 130 countries. As more people learn about the benefits of meditation in helping individuals gain control over their thoughts, feelings, and actions, many have come to the BKs seeking help to overcome depression or change a suicidal frame of mind.

Raja Yoga meditation enables one to disconnect from damaging patterns of negative thoughts, feelings, and reactions; focusing instead on the positive and natural qualities of the soul or spirit. Over time, this improves one’s attitude and ability to respond to life’s stressors. A person who practices meditation fills up with inner peace and power; their happiness increases; they become less dependent on external circumstances.

It is necessary to realize that genetic vulnerability, biochemical abnormalities, personality development and negative patterns of thinking prior to following Raja Yoga would still leave a person prone to depression and in severe cases, even suicidal thoughts or attempts. Individuals with depression may require much more focus and practice of Raja Yoga as their ability to understand the practices may be temporarily inhibited and motivation reduced during a depressive episode. The person with depression should be discouraged, while depressed, to sit in silent meditation or to be in solitude. The person may require more support and less expectation than usual at the time of crisis. The patterns of thinking, especially negative ones that are learned over a period of time, require extra time to unlearn. This process of self-growth may need guidance, support, role modeling and an opportunity to connect with like-minded persons. Those with a history of, or propensity toward, depression may need extra support as they may be particularly vulnerable to the challenges of personal transformation.

Spirituality in general and Raja Yoga in particular may be quite helpful as a prevention and recovery tool for distorted cognitions, lowered self-esteem and emotional lows. Its focus on self-change leading to mastery in challenging external situations may act as a preventive strategy for depression. The idea of being equivocal in all circumstances would help in mood fluctuations.

The majority of persons who have used Raja Yoga meditation to overcome depression in combination with medical or psychological care have benefited. This is in no small measure due to the love, care, and support that people find in the Brahma Kumaris community. While such support offers immediate relief to a depressed or suicidal person, s/he has to make a personal commitment to recovery over a long period of time. Raja Yoga meditation can help sustain recovery by facilitating the development of tolerance, patience, courage and a positive outlook. This adds up to inner strength. This spiritual empowerment gradually changes a person’s frame of mind and enables him/her to look forward to life. In most cases, love, care and an appropriate lifestyle coupled with the inner strength that Raja Yoga brings have enabled individuals to regain their confidence and lead a normal life.

The Brahma Kumaris are working to achieve greater success in suicide prevention and the treatment of depression through the twin tools of meditation and spiritual service. There is no simple correlation between depression/suicidal behavior with its myriad causes, and spirituality which is also dependent on how one understands and practices it. Nevertheless, the spiritual dimension is extremely important in our individual and collective psyches. Spirituality shapes one’s existence, purpose in life and answers the question of “Who Am I”.

Sources Cited

Brahma Kumaris, Depression, Meditation, Suicide, Spirituality

Click here to read the WHO article on depression

Filed in: Suicide

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