Oct 1, 2010

Depression and Buddhism Part 1

October is National Depression Awareness Month

Video Created by Loflo

By Lee Wolfson
World Tribune 02/09/01 n.3332 p.8 WT010209p08
The following personal history is a composite of many different SGI-USA members who
have been kind enough to share their struggles and triumphs in overcoming depression.
This article is focused on unipolar depression, a mood disorder that is characterized by a
pervasive sad or dysphoric mood, as opposed to bipolar disorder, or manic/depression, a
mood disorder that includes depression and mania (euphoria).

A Jan. 9 Reuters News Service release from Geneva, Switzerland, stated: “The United
Nations health agency, WHO [World Health Organization], predicted that by 2020,
depression would jump to the second greatest cause of death and disability worldwide,
following ischemic heart disease. WHO officials spoke at a news briefing to launch
WHO’s 2001 campaign aimed at removing myths and stigmas linked to such disorders.”

Jen sat at her desk at the end of another very long day. She had successfully managed to
move the pile of papers, also known as next year’s budget, from one side of the desk to the other without ever actually doing anything constructive. She wasn’t sure where the day had gone. She was just grateful that her new position provided an office with a door that could be closed. The last thing she felt like doing was engaging in the friendly banter with her co-workers. At her worst moments, she felt paralyzed with indecision and worried that someone would notice her recent lack of productivity.

As she sat in traffic on the way home, her thoughts turned to her husband, Jeffery. 
His chronic illness had flared up again, and she grew anxious about her capacity to take care of him. When she arrived home, Jeffery was sleeping soundly. Jen sank into her chair, not bothering to turn on the lights. Jeffery found her sitting in the same place several hours later. When he invited her to do evening prayers, she snapped at him and then was hit with a wave of guilt when she saw the hurt look in his eyes. She mechanically followed him to the altar. Reciting the sutra was an ordeal. She could not concentrate and was unable to sit up straight or look at the Gohonzon. She was restless and fidgety and after less than a minute of chanting, she simply got up and went back to her chair. “What is the point of chanting when I can’t formulate a single coherent thought?” Jen said to herself.

When her husband finished, he asked her what was wrong. At that moment an
overwhelming feeling of fatigue and melancholy washed over her and she was close to
tears. She just looked at him, unable to find the words to describe what she was
experiencing. He gently took her hand and held it for a time. Jeffery looked at her and
again gently asked what was wrong. The tears began to trickle down her cheeks, and Jen
began to describe her problems at work, but then cut the discussion short because she
really didn’t want to burden him.
Jen went to bed that night at her usual time, although she knew it was quite futile. Sleep
did not come easy these days, and when it did, it was fitful at best. These long night hours were the worst. The demons she thought she had vanquished when she first began her Buddhist practice returned with a vengeance. In the early morning hours when she could not return to sleep, she would find herself ruminating about all her past mistakes, real or imagined.

When the alarm finally sounded, she dragged herself from the bed, a feeling of fatigue
her constant companion. She sat with her cup of coffee, her appetite gone. Darkness had
descended once again into Jen’s life, and even though she had successfully defeated it
numerous times in the past, she had no confidence that she would be successful this time.
Jeff came into the kitchen and sat down next to her and said, “I am worried that you are
getting depressed again.”
“What makes you say that?” Jen said softly.
“I know you, Jen. I see all the warning signs. I think you should do something about
“And just what would you suggest?” It was not easy for Jen to accept advice from her

Jeffery measured his words carefully, but they came directly from his heart. “Do you
remember when I first found out about my medical condition? I was devastated and felt
so hopeless. You were the one who told me not to give up. You were the one who gave me that quote from For Today and Tomorrow: ‘Everyone at some time suffers from illness in one form or another. The power of the Mystic Law enables us to bring forth strength to
overcome the pain and suffering of sickness with courage and determination’(p. 16). And
from The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin: ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a
lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle!’(p. 412). You not only encouraged me
to chant, you dragged me in front of the Gohonzon every day and chanted with me. You
have to know that I am prepared to do the same.”

His confidence and compassion for her momentarily moved Jen’s heart. How could she
forget the fierce battle that she and her husband fought against his illness?
“You are probably right,” she said. “I guess I didn’t want to admit what was really
happening. Sometimes I think it would be far easier to battle against a medical illness,
instead of a mental illness.”

“Why is this so different? When I got sick, we chanted together to find the best doctors,
find the right medication, and to change poison into medicine. We can do the same thing
now. How many times did you tell me the importance of faith and a strong determination?”
By now, Jeff was warmly smiling at Jen, and in spite of herself, Jen was meekly smiling
“Jeff, you’re right. Let’s do gongyo, and when we’re done, I am going to find a good

Jen is not alone. In any given one-year period, 9.5 percent of the population, or about 18.8 million American adults, suffer from a depressive illness. Most people think that
depression is much more widespread. Because we have all felt depressed or discouraged
at some time in our lives, we assume that this temporary low mood is the same thing as a
major depression. As illustrated by Jen’s experience, we can see that major depression is
a far more debilitating condition than a simple case of the blues. Depressive illnesses often interfere with normal functioning and cause pain and suffering not only to those who have a disorder, but also to those who care about them. Serious depression can destroy family life as well as the life of the ill person.

Even though we have come to understand unipolar depression as an illness, there are no
blood tests, brain scans or other technologies available to help us make a diagnosis of
major depression. The diagnosis of depression is made by carefully looking at symptoms
as reported by the person and their family. According to the DSM-IV, otherwise known as
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition), five or more
of the following symptoms must be present for two weeks or longer: 

Depressed mood 
•Pervasive loss of interest or inability to enjoy pleasurable activities.
•Appetite disturbance including loss of appetite or increased appetite.
• Sleep disturbance.
•A pervasive feeling of fatigue or low energy.
• Psychomotor retardation (a physical slowness) or psychomotor agitation (restless
and fidgety).
•Feelings of worthlessness and/or excessive guilt.
• Diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions.
•Preoccupation with thoughts of death including suicidal thinking.

To Be Continued......

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