Depression is one of the fastest growing mental illnesses in the world today and amongst the most expensive medical conditions and within the next 20 years, more people will be impacted by depression than any other health problem.
So what is depression? While it is often seen as ‘mental illness’, clinical depression is often accompanied by many physical symptoms and even disease. The symptoms of depression include:-
• Feeling sad.
• Feeling exhausted and fatigued.
• Inability to complete even small tasks.
• Feeling minor to severe anxiety.
• Feeling isolated and isolating oneself.
• Confusion and lack of mental clarity.
• Feelings of inadequacy.
• Pessimistic unable to see a future.
• Irritable or angry.
• Lack of sleep.
• Self-absorbed and ruminating
• Feel victimised
• Physical aches, pains and rashes.
Traditional biomedical diagnosis is based on the mind body separation and considers the symptoms as the illness “depression”, and thus provide treatment for “depression”. Therefore depression is effectively a label given to a set of symptoms and not actually addressing the cause of the symptoms.
In contrast, diagnosis based on the mind-body connection and recognising that the mind, in particular the ego-complex, as the root cause which give rise to psychological symptoms, which then manifest as physical symptoms. In this approach all these symptoms can be classified as “suffering”, mental and emotional states which are experienced as uncomfortable and unpleasant.
So what is the root cause of these symptoms? When we feel threatened, the body activates its flight-fright or stress response system. Feeling threatened physically or psychologically motivates the need to change the situation, either by running away or fighting. The nature of suffering is the need for things to be different than they are. Suffering is experienced when we feel threatened either physically or psychologically. These symptoms are all associated with a particular type of mental state which is one of unpleasantness and discomfort, in contrast to comfort and pleasantness. The root cause is aversion, wanting things to be different than they are, a non-acceptable of present circumstances.
Consider what happens when we experience any form of threat. The body’s flight fight system is activated which has the following immediate effect on both the biochemistry and physiology of the body.
The fight-or-flight response is initiated either as a result of real or perceived threat through the hypothalamus, which activates two systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system. The sympathetic nervous system uses nerve pathways to initiate reactions in the body, and the adrenal-cortical releases around 30 different hormones into the bloodstream. The combined effects of these two systems are the fight-or-flight response which will include:-
• Pupil dilation
• Increase in heart rate and blood pressure increase
• Vaso constriction – blood vessels narrow
• Increase in blood-glucose levels
• Increased muscle tension
• Impair or shut down immune system and digestive system
• trouble focusing on small tasks
A continuous mental effort to avoid the present circumstances manifests as a constant effort of wanting a different present, where the present situation becomes increasingly distressing.
It is useful to remember that the activities of the ego-complex or mind are either being in the past or planning a future, and within that, either considering “self” as a victim or a hero.
Therefore the combination of ego-complex patterns of rumination, together with a strong desire to avoid the present psychological state and its accompanying symptoms maintains the activated flight-fright system, with all its biochemical and physiological effects.
Conclusion: The current incomplete and flawed biomedical model assumes the mind and body are separate and therefore treat the symptoms of flight-fright response system as “depression”. Diagnosis based on mind-body relationship can quickly recognise that the symptoms of “depression” are in fact, the result of the continuous activation of the flight-fright response system.
The evidence is apparent, right-mindfulness approach works in reducing and eliminating depression because it enable individuals to “switch off” their stress response system, recognise the habits of rumination and cultivate being present with an attitude of non-judgement. Accepting the situation and allowing awareness to dis-identify itself from the content of the mind, its thoughts and their accompanies emotions and sensations eliminates not just depression but other unhealthy mental and emotional states.