Depression is one of the most common mental disorders to overwhelm our planet in the last century, affecting tens of millions of people across cultures, ages and socio-economic groups. In fact, depression is the 4th leading contributor to the global burden of disability & disease.* Statistics show that depression is steadily on the rise, along with its related problems like suicide. On an average, over 850,000 people a year lose their lives in depression-related suicide. Still more shocking, children five years and under have become the fastest growing consumer segment for anti-depressants. It is estimated that over 20% of the next generation is likely to fall prey to serious depression-related disorders before they are out of their teens. In spite of high awareness in recent years about the disorder, it is astonishing that less than 25% of depression patients receive adequate care and medical treatment. This is partly because many patients do not even seek medical help out of ignorance about their condition, or for fear of social ostracism. The lack of trained healthcare professionals is also partly to blame. Whatever the reasons, it has become impossible to ignore the frightening fact that depression is poised to be one of the killer diseases of the next generation – unless we act NOW. (* Per National Healthcare Disparities Report ) How does depression occur? Depression has been traditionally defined as a morbid mental state characterized by loss of interest in life, low self-esteem, inability to pursue goals or relate with others, abnormal eating and sleeping habits, and a general feeling that one is at a dead end. If left undetected or unresolved, chronic depression can permanently scar a person, and may even lead to suicide. The problem is, depression has always been seen as a psychological disorder and the sufferer’s personal problem. This is compounded by the fact that the disorder itself is characterized by feelings of guilt and low self-worth, with more than half of depression patients believing that they are responsible for their state. It is only recently that depression has been understood as a complex product of genetic, biochemical, psychological, social and environmental factors. Nutritional deficiencies, blood sugar imbalances, and imbalances in the endocrine axis (consisting of three primary endocrine glands – the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the pineal glands) can all be responsible for depression. The pineal gland in particular, located near the center of the brain, is responsible for the secretion of the hormone melatonin. Low melatonin levels directly correlate with a genetic vulnerability to depression. Socially, while disadvantaged segments of society like the uneducated, unemployed, marginalized ethnic groups, women and the elderly and are more susceptible to depression, there is no dearth of sufferers among the educated and the affluent, making it difficult to pin-point the exact social causes of depression. Handling depression Depending on the severity of the disorder, depression can be handled by making simple lifestyle changes. Proper sleep routines and nutritious meals can make a big difference to borderline depression patients. Finding a meaningful relationship or goal in one’s life, discovering a hobby or taking time for prayer can all help come out of mild depression. Speaking to a friend or seeking professional counseling also takes a huge burden off the suffering individual. Chronic depression may additionally require medication. Alternative medicines, yoga and meditation have a powerful healing effect on depression since they access subtler levels of personality that are not normally available to traditional medicine. In particular, yoga and pranayama (breathing techniques) tone and energize the nervous system, serving both preventive and curative purposes. Deeper truths of depression According to the Vedic healing sciences, depression is not a physical disease at all, but the extreme suffocation of the being. It is caused and characterized by the shrinking of the subtle body. We rarely notice the subtle body unless it is stimulated or disturbed in some way. Have you ever felt suddenly suffocated when entering a small room or a cave, even though there is plenty of oxygen and enough space for the physical body to move around? The pressure you feel is the shrinking of the subtle body that is actually our breathing space and emotional-mental boundary. One of the primary causes of climbing juvenile depression rates is suppression due to parental and social influences. Children are being exposed to overwhelming amounts of physical and emotional information and at an age when they are barely equipped to handle it, either physiologically or emotionally. Simultaneously, they are subjected to the severe demands of a rapidly changing lifestyle, parental expectations and peer pressure which suppress their free expression from all sides. The resultant suffocation is depression. In the initial stages of the disorder, this shrinking of the subtle body happens due to external causes. Since the subtle body also contains our prana (life-force) reserves, the shrinking of this body plunges us into an energy low, ensuring that we never have sufficient resources to climb back out into normalcy. Unfortunately, this shrunken way of existing gradually becomes part of the bio-memory (cellular memory), casting a shadow of depression over one’s life for no reason. A state of mild, causeless depression is a modern urban disorder that has practically become a way of life for millions today. The spiritual way out of depression Inner expansion is the only permanent cure for depression! Although depression can be helped by the right diet, proper sleep and cultivation of meaningful life goals, none of these can offer a permanent solution. By nature, human beings are hard-wired for continuous evolution and expansion. Spiritual living is nothing but constantly expanding beyond the boundaries created by the body and mind. For exactly this reason, a period of deep depression can become a transformational period in your life. Experiencing a powerful sense of suffocation automatically forces us to seek expansion in some form. At this time, if the patient is given a spiritual solution like meditation, we can ensure that he or she does not fall prey to substance abuse or suicide. In Vedic medical science, depression is linked to energy blockages in the sahasrara chakra (crown energy center). This chakra is literally a channel to receive cosmic energies. The health of this chakra depends on how open and available we are to the influx of Divine energies. While techniques like prayer and meditation can help melt down the resistance to these energies, yoga can help ‘lock’ these changes into our system, so that the transformational energy garnered during these processes does not drain away in regressive and self-defeating behavior. One powerful way to get out of depression is to shift the focus of one’s life away from oneself. Caring selflessly for another person, especially for a child or an infirm person, is a highly effective way of expanding beyond oneself. Post-partum depression is the unfortunate product of a generation that has never experienced the joy of genuinely giving and caring selflessly for another being. While hormonal imbalances and social influences are real contributors to depression and cannot be ignored, chronic depression can be flushed out of the system only by a proper understanding of its root cause. The ideal healing process would involve an intelligent mix of lifestyle changes, a sound appreciation of possible causes and solutions, a strong attitudinal shift, some yoga training, and a steady spiritual practice.