Up until a few years ago, someone complaining continually of intense sadness or dejection would get responses like You think too much, What do you have to be sad about? Don’t feel this way or the classic It’s all in the mind. Eventually, for want of empathy, professional help or even a plausible explanation, they would eventually resort to feigning cheerfulness in social situations, all the while suffering internally.
Times are changing, though. Unwarranted advice has taken a backseat since depression has been acknowledged as an illness. Help is out there, not just under the wings of conventional medicine, but also in the space of complementary and alternative medicine.
Depression is a mental health condition where a person finds it hard to function normally. Generally marked by intense sadness and feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness, depression manifests differently in different people. A few common symptoms are fatigue, loss of appetite or overeating, insomnia or excessive sleeping, irritability, restlessness, loss of interest, a feeling of emptiness, recurring thoughts about suicide, trouble remembering details, making decisions and concentrating.
Dr Kishor Adhikari, Professor of Psychology at Christ University, Bengaluru, describes depression using phenomenology–a method of inquiry based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness.
According to Adhikari, a depressed person has an extremely negative opinion of himself. For that person, the world is a dark and worthless place. “He sees himself as a burden and has a cluster of negative thoughts which keep resurfacing. Most importantly, a depressed person targets himself when angry,” explains Adhikari.
David Foster Wallace, the famous American novelist, struggled with depression for many years before hanging himself one fateful day at the age of 46. In his book Infinite Jest, he describes the struggle of depression. “There is no way Kate Gompert could ever even begin to make someone else understand what clinical depression feels like, not even another person who is herself clinically depressed, because a person in such a state is incapable of empathy with any other living thing. […] If a person in physical pain has a hard time attending to anything except that pain, a clinically depressed person cannot even perceive any other person or thing as independent of the universal pain that is digesting her cell by cell. Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution.”
Wallace was not alone. Many famous people like Friedrich Nietzsche, Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, to name a few, also suffered from this illness.
Depression is difficult to deal with and while conventional medicine helps, sometimes anti-depressants and psychotherapy are just not enough. For those who have found no solace through them, other ways to heal do exist.
Alternative medicine has taken the world by storm. As the name suggests, it is an alternative to conventional or allopathic medicine. It consists of a wide range of therapies that can be used in place of standard treatments. Akin to alternative medicine is complementary medicine. The difference between the two is that complementary medicine does not replace but rather accompanies standard medical practices. Complementary and alternative, the two approaches of medicine are known as CAM.
Alternative practices like Reiki, pranic healing and acupuncture deal with body chakras–the seven energy centres of the body that correspond to different organs and control all emotional and mental behaviour.
Let’s take a look at some of the methods.
The word Reiki is a combination of two Japanese words, Rei, the universe–and Ki, energy. Reiki is a healing technique where hands are used to transmit energy to the patient. Practitioners draw energy from the universe and pass it on. Energy can be sent from a Reiki practitioner to a patient anywhere on the planet. “Using Reiki, we activate and energise the chakras. In level one of Reiki, the hand is placed and energy flows while in level two, symbols are placed. For depression, level two works wonderfully,” says Ushaa Rani, an alternative healing therapist specialising in pranic healing, acupuncture and Reiki.
Developed by Master Chok Sui from Japan, Pranic healing is a form of energy healing which uses life force or prana to improve health. Pranic healing is said to be extremely powerful and is based on the principle of accelerating the healing capacity of the body by increasing its life force.
Healers use colours on chakras to cleanse and energise them. For instance, cleansing of Muladhara chakra is done using red colour and is stabilised with blue colour. A pranic healer can feel the chakras and sense if they are over-activated or have holes in them. “A person with holes in the Muladhara chakra will display signs of depression that can be cured by pranic healing alone,” says Ushaa.
Depression is not easy to live with. Those who suffer from it go through excruciating pain, both physically and mentally.
This therapy uses the power of music to treat a variety of health problems including depression. Different therapists use different methods. Rajam Shanker, a music therapist based in Hyderabad, uses an ancient technique called Nada Anusandhana. In this method, the seven chakras correspond to the seven notes of music and the therapist uses an appropriate musical note to evoke a resonant response from a particular chakra.
“Each chakra is associated with an emotion. One or more chakras may be blocked in a patient with depression. By evaluating the root cause of depression, one can determine which chakra is affected. Once the blocked chakra is identified, I use the musical note related to it,” explains Shanker.
One of the best known alternative and complementary therapies, acupuncture has been around for centuries. Dating back to almost 100 BC, it is a form of Chinese medicine based on the theory of a vital energy called Qi that circulates through the human body. Any disruption in its flow is responsible for illnesses. Acupuncture involves insertion of needles into the skin to restore the energy flow.
According to Ushaa, acupuncture is a strong therapy when it comes to treating depression. “Reiki and pranic healing take more time than acupuncture which gives faster results,” she explains.
In addition to therapies that work on body chakras, there are others based on different principles also known to be effective in treating depression.
Light, or the lack of it, affects our mood. Upon being exposed to light, the body produces serotonin, a brain chemical that influences the mood. For example, during gloomy rainy and winter months, serotonin levels can drop and lead to depression. Going for a walk or bathing in the sun, thereby getting enough sunlight, can alter the mood significantly.
Inhaling or massaging certain fragrances into the skin is believed to stimulate the nerves and have a calming effect. Aromatherapy, also called essential oils therapy, uses oils extracted from barks, leaves, roots and flowers of a plant to relieve stress, and treat insomnia and depression.
A powerful discipline, yoga is known to enhance the overall health of those who practice it. “Mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but enmeshed. The body and the mind have innate potential to heal themselves and yoga strengthens this power of self-healing. Pranayama (breathing exercise) and asanas such as Uttanasana, Setu Bandhasana and Balasana improve brain function and infuse the entire system with fresh oxygen and Prana (life force) to help cure depression,” says Neelam Khatri, Yogic Lifestyle Trainer at The Oriental Spa, Bangkok.
Depression is not easy to live with. Those who suffer from it go through excruciating pain, both physically and mentally. Many–on finding no refuge from their endless suffering–give up their lives. It is not just essential but paramount to understand and support, every step of the way, those who battle every day, the demon of depression.