What is depression and why has it become so pervasive?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is a condition marked by sadness and a loss of interest in activities that a person once enjoyed. Clinical depression tends to differ from normal sadness in that it is more permanent, and may linger independent of any specific trigger or event. People with depression may experience a general low mood or periods of lethargy, disinterest, low self-esteem, changes in sleeping, eating and lifestyle, and/or sadness that last days, weeks or months.
It’s hard to say with certainty why depression seems to be so pervasive in modern society, but probably it is a combination of factors. One, quite simply, is the existence of the diagnosis, “depression,” and the tendency of psychological and medical professionals to apply diagnoses like depression to psychological/life issues, along with the widespread desire people have to reach for a pharmaceutical solution — the “quick fix,” as they say.
Widespread depression may also be a function of a society that emphasizes individual competition over family, community and spirituality. Rather than feeling part of some larger purpose, modern individuals increasingly feel alienated, aimless and negatively self-obsessed within a large and complicated world that lacks the more straightforward values, closeness and community support of traditional societies. To some people, modern life may feel like a maze in which they made too many wrong turns or seem perpetually stuck. Of course, while depression may be a societal problem, it is also very much an individual one, with unique and often complex causes within individual cases.
Why are current treatments falling short?
As western medicine races to treat the symptoms of depression, less is being done in the way of exploring its roots. Thus, while pharmaceutical approaches to depression may alleviate some symptoms, at least temporarily, they do very little — unto themselves — toward actually addressing the underlying problem. In the long run, pharmaceutical solutions may have little or no positive effect, and may even worsen depression by depleting certain neurotransmitters, causing dependency and producing side effects.
Our approach to depression
Our approach to depression is multi-pronged. One, we address it on the physical level through natural supplementation, a clean diet and physical exercise. Second, we change our habits — and thereby begin to change our minds. Instead of always reaching for the closest, easiest thing of comfort (but ultimately dissatisfaction) — a cigarette, a cell phone, constant napping, whatever — we encourage people to notice these impulses and, whenever possible, to override them. Simultaneously, we begin to introduce more challenging replacements to these impulses that help to stimulate change, growth and new interests. Beyond that, we initiate a process of self-exploration, using psychotherapy, various body therapies, and medicine plants aimed at deeper self-recognition and new psychic and spiritual openings that bring us to recognize and expand a little beyond the self-entrapment of depression. And all of this we do within the context of a close therapeutic community aimed at nurturing authenticity, social bonds, interpersonal respect and feelings of self-worth.