How Depression Serves Us.

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What causes depression? No one knows.

No really—not even the medical profession. Do a quick google search and see what comes up.

The best they can offer is a few theories of biological factors combined with environmental and behavioural issues. They can estimate how likely someone is to experience depression based on this, but they don’t know the root cause.

Makes it hard to heal something when you don’t know what is causing it!

So we don’t treat depression, instead we treat the symptoms of depression. Big difference.

Symptoms of depression are generally divided into three categories—mood, physical and cognitive.

According to the New Zealand website Everybody, mood symptoms of depression include a persistent low, sad or depressed mood, loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities and irritable mood.

Physical symptoms of depression include change in sleeping patterns, change in appetite, decreased energy, tiredness, fatigue, physical slowing or agitation.

Cognitive symptoms of depression include thoughts of worthlessness or guilt, involving loss of confidence in self and excessive guilt about past minor wrongs. As a result of feeling bad about themselves, people may withdraw from doing things and from contact with others.

There can be thoughts of hopelessness and death. The person may feel there is no hope in life, wish they were dead or have thoughts of suicide. People may have difficulty in concentrating or thinking clearly. They may not be able to read the paper or watch television. They may also have great difficulty making even simple everyday decisions.

Treatment for depression usually focuses on medication and psychotherapy. One fools the mind into feeling OK, and the other looks deeper into some of the beliefs and behavior patterns that may be contributing to the depression.

However, both focus only on the symptoms of depression—and this can be helpful because it gives the depressed person a lift and the necessary strength to start taking a hard look at what is actually causing the depression. But if treatment and action stops with just these two methods, as it so often does, then the root cause is never addressed and a huge opportunity to realign a person’s life is fundamentally missed.

So what really causes depression? Here’s one possibility worth exploring.

What if depression is caused by a soul in crisis? What if it’s a desperate plea for attention? A flare above stormy seas during a dark and windy night exploding into the atmosphere?

And what do we do?

Turn a giant hose on the flare and wash it away without bothering to follow the trail all the way back to the flare’s source—that soul of ours. And if the words spiritsoul or consciousness don’t work for you, then think of it like this:

When you are depressed, it is simply the True part of who you are telling you that things are not right, and that you need to make some fundamental changes in your life.

Hence all of those symptoms above—we become disinterested in our life as it is and have difficulty focusing on anything external.

Before we go any further, let’s establish a conceptual framework for how we work.

First, we have the physical body, the emotional body, the mental body and the energetic body. Simple enough right? Examples of parts of these bodies are our hands, our feelings, our thoughts, and the firing of our nerve synapses.

Think of it like the four elements, earth = physical, emotional = water, mental = air, energetic = fire.

But there is another element—the fifth element. Aristotle named the fifth element as the ether—that which encompasses all that is. Hinduism and Buddism call that fifth element Akasha, also ether. And Japanese culture named it Void/sky/heaven.

Within our body, the fifth element corresponds to our soul. It is the part of us that connects with all that is—with the ether, the akasha, or consciousness. (You could also use a yogic framework to explore this layering of the bodies—the five koshas.)

When you experience depression it is because the four material elements are no longer in alignment with your fifth element—your soul. You are lost and floating away from Self, abandoned on the great expanse of ocean… and so a flare is sent up. Depression arrives—this sense of something being fundamentally ‘not right,’ this total lack of motivation to engage in the world as it is for you right now, this profound sense of sinking and despair.

Those depressed thoughts and feelings are the flare, shooting up from the soul into the atmosphere to grab our attention.

If we perceive depression through this lens, then it becomes an opportunity to pay attention to what’s really going on inside of us and work to find alignment again. This doesn’t preclude the use of medication or therapy – both of these are useful.

However framing depression like this turns it into a gift—an opportunity. Instead of something that we fear or resist, it becomes something that we choose to accept and work with.

Depression might be the first moment when you’ve felt the stirrings of your soul, it’s a sign to dig deep inside and start listening to what your soul has to say, it’s a neon flashing sign instructing you to change your life now, from the inside out.

The arrival of depression in your life could even be something to celebrate! Yes, I know, I said celebrate – because now you are being FORCED via feeling awful to make changes in your life that you were reluctant to make before.

Depression is your soul desperately trying to get your attention.

Wake up!

Here I am!!!

Listen to me!!!

However, without creating a framework around depression that sees it as an opportunity to turn in and find greater alignment, we  can become completely absorbed in the feelings and experience of depression. Our depression can depress us further—because we don’t know what these feelings are about, we don’t like them, we just want to fix them and make them go away and we want to feel better again.

depression adsMy own experience of depression demonstrated this perfectly. Denial of my own truth and of the path my soul wanted to walk led to depression. Following the flare back down to my soul, and listening to what it wanted, put me back on the right path and the depression melted away. (With a lot of effort and hard work – knowing what’s going on doesn’t make it any easier to deal with!)

However, it becomes very difficult to heal the root cause of a condition when the belief system doesn’t accept there is such a thing as a soul, or a consciousness beyond the body, feelings, mind and energy.

This is the conundrum western medical experts find themselves in. Until they can embrace an understanding of the world which includes the spirit, they can not heal a condition caused by the pain of the spirit.

The key to unraveling depression is simply being completely honest about WHO you are, and what YOU want. Even if it means facing up to truths in your life you would rather keep hidden.

At its most basic—a misalignment of internal truth causes depression.

  • Like, you married your wife because you thought she was hot and now you can’t stand her.
  • Maybe you pleased your parents and became a doctor when you secretly yearned to be a lawyer.
  • Or you really didn’t want children at all and can’t bring yourself to feel any love for them, and feel awful about this.
  • Or you miss your home country so much and even though you’d be ‘worse’ off you really want to move home again.

Our soul knows our truths. We know our truths. But so often… they are hidden and denied. Instead, we buy into what society tells us.

Like we should be happy because we won Miss Universe—but our true self couldn’t care less about being Miss Bloody Universe, and instead wishes she were living in the Arctic charting the movement of polar bears.

“How could she possibly be depressed,” society mutters. “She’s got everything a girl could want! Fame, money, looks…”

But life is so much more interesting and complex than that. We don’t all find fulfillment in the same things—even though we’re sold the same external desires via our advertising-controlled media. Looks! Wealth! Fame! Possessions! Eternal Youth!

Denial of who we truly are combined with actions taken for external reasons create depression.

  • I’ll make a million bucks and then they’ll love me! So why aren’t I happy now…
  • I’ll be a Sports Star and it will be awesome! So why aren’t I happy now…
  • I’ll marry the richest man I can find and then everything will be wonderful! So why aren’t I happy now…

What makes us truly happy is simply being who we truly are. It’s aligning our physical, emotional, mental and energetic selves with our spirit, soul, consciousness, true Self.

So if you are encountering depression, the most empowering action you can do is to first change your perception of it. Explore welcoming it into your life as a gift from your soul.

Start by getting the help and support you need from your friends, family and the medical profession—medication and psychotherapy are excellent at treating the symptoms. This is important because when you are in the depths of depression, and I know, I’ve been there—it is impossible (nearly) to do anything. And to start listening to your soul or true self, you need to be able to take action.

With the symptoms taken care of, or at least lessened, and the support and love of those close to you, then you can start to do the hard work that will free you from depression forever. The big question you need to ask yourself is: Who am I truly? How do I align myself to truth in my life?

Rates of depression are increasing all over the Western world, and I wonder if it is caused, in part, by our general reliance on external sources to chart our life’s course, with little heed paid to the yearnings of our soul.

At some point, this total disregard for our own internal truth manifests as a profound sense of despair and disillusionment with life. Instead of seeing the horror of a world plagued with depression, we can instead see it as a giant wake-up call—our collective soul is crying out for recognition.

In the wake of material comfort, it is time to finally understand that true joy, happiness and contentment comes from living an authentic life—however difficult that may initially seem.


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Ed: Sara Crolick

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About Kara-Leah Grant

Kara-Leah Grant is an internationally renowned retreat leader, yoga teacher and writer. She pours her love into growing a world-wide tribe of courageous, committed, and empowered individuals through leading retreats in New Zealand, Mexico, and Bali. Kara-Leah is also the founder of New Zealand’s own awesome yoga website, The Yoga Lunchbox, and author of Forty Days of Yoga—Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice and The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yoga. A born & bred Kiwi who spent her twenties wandering the world and living large, Kara-Leah has spent time in Canada, the USA, France, England, Mexico, and a handful of other luscious locations. She now lives and travels internationally with her son, a ninja-in-training. You can find Kara-Leah on her website, or on Facebook.


32 Responses to “How Depression Serves Us.”

  1. smallgrl says:

    This is exactly how I've been thinking about depression lately, but no one seems to get it. Well, my friends do, but doctors and workplaces don't. I'm glad you do — great piece.

    • Susannah says:

      Many, if not most, people in our society do not "get" depression and other emotional phenomena. It's a very dangerous state of affairs for our souls & psyches.

  2. cindy says:

    Those of us who have this disease can relate to this article……as we all know….back to the basics….seems to always make things REAL. Thanks

  3. Malina says:

    Excellent. This type of thinking is what really got me through depression, as well. I may have never had the peace of mind I have now had I not secluded myself and really FELT what needed to be felt. Avoiding and ignoring is only a downward spiral.

    Thank you for this article, Kara-Leah. I think many will benefit from it.

  4. Grey says:

    I love, love, love this piece. Thank you for writing it.

  5. Daniel says:

    This article presents a soul crisis (or however youd like to phrase it) as the root cause of depression. While this may be the cause for a particular type of depression I think it is important to note that there are also forms of depression that are chemical and unrelated to internal, soul level truths. It is possible to have a condition where your body simply does not have the ability to produce enough serotonin to live a normal life. Chronic depression seems to have different roots and triggers than a major depressive episode.

    • Susannah says:

      Is there any evidence of this or is it pure speculation? (Hint: I'm familiar with the science. It's pure speculation.) What makes you say that "chronic depression seems to have different roots and triggers than a major depressive episode"? Just because one is slow and steady and the other is sudden and major does not mean they are completely different phenomena.

      • Carol says:

        Absolutely, Susannah. I've been suffering chronic depression my whole life, since I was a child. A lifetime of "what is WRONG with me?!!" I am almost 50 now.

        A few years back, I finally was forced to take anti-depressants (literally forced – I got to a point where I could not work anymore, but the insurance company I'd been paying into for over a decade would pay me not one cent of my benefits unless I went on the medication). I took them for a couple of years and, while it levelled out my moods somewhat, I was left feeling … almost nothing. I made the decision to come off them under the guidance of my physician.

        Coming off them was pure unadulterated hell – I was not informed prior to starting that coming off would entail months of debilitating "electrical storms" inside the brain, headaches, nausea, etc., followed by a post-medication blast of the foulest, angriest hell-bent-on-death depression I had ever experienced in my entire life, and it would not alter in any way for weeks and weeks on end – that was WITH a slow taper off. I found a website full of people who were going through the same thing – it saved my life. BE WARNED: medication is not the simple help they make it out to be – there is a serious hidden cost!

        Anyway, back to the soul. I look back now, in the light of this article and see my history from a different perspective. I was adopted at birth to a woman who desperately wanted a little girl and could not conceive. The little girl she wanted, however, was nothing like the little girl that I was. I learned to adapt in order to survive her own depression and rage by becoming anything but who I really was – and half a century later, I am beginning to discover who that is, to honour it and to act on it.

        And guess what? Depression is leaving me incrementally, genuinely, more and more with every step I take on this new path back to my true self. It is very slow, hard work, but nothing could be more worth it as my own transformation (homecoming?) is in turn creating a space of self-acceptance and celebration for everyone around me.

        Save the planet: honour your deepest self.

      • Christina says:

        Well Susannah unfortunately the theory outlined in this article is just as much pure speculation than the science that attempts to explain chronic depression. And as someone who has had chronic depression since childhood AND currently works in a field that I love, I am inclined to agree with Daniel's statement.

    • Hey Daniel,

      True – depression is a complex experience that can't necessarily be explained by one concrete cause. I don't know the science of brain chemistry well enough to make a well-informed comment, however from the reading I have done, I'm curious to know whether the chemical changes observed in the brain are the cause of some depression, or the result of depression. i.e. – which comes first?

  6. Vicki says:

    Fabulous article and I totally agree with everything you say, except I think you do psychotherapy a bit of a disservice. There are indeed some forms of therapy that focus mainly on symptoms, but the majority look for underlying issues, including deeply held beliefs and patterns, past trauma and grief, and crises and conflicts with how we are living our lives.

  7. Piers says:

    I highly recommend an article on just this, by Jeanni Zandi. It's about the dark night of the soul and awakening. You can read it here:

  8. lee ann says:

    What about depressed children?

    • Argenta says:

      Too many children lead depressive, soulless lives. (I know — I'm a mum and a teacher, and I've seen it too many times.) They are also human, and react in much the same way as we grown-ups do.

  9. waltinseattle says:

    i have a bias that kicked in at the mention of Aristotle. it is this division into things which separates this from that, body from mind, mind from spirit, and on. given that i must agree that western society is enmeshed in this idea. so thanks for trying to link them into one again and pointing to the importsnce of knowing where in that multi faceted unity sid-ease orriginates.

    i would like to emphasize daniel’s observation that not all depressions are the same. sometimes it is chemistry. sometimes chemistry catches it from…soul….if you like that “thing” term/word. it is a feedback. and as neuroscience now dimly percieves, awareness of one’s internal landscape is critical, but it can be obsessive and negative as well as liberating. just as focus on an injury like a broken toe can lessen or highten the awareness of pain. it is not awareness but how one processes the pain…or depressive triggers. too often positive thought only renames denial.

    we taoist seek not happiness but equanimity, where fortune nor health are the prize. there is no “prize.” there is doing and being. doing is those if i do this, if i gain fame fortune and (fill in the blank as your personal monkey king suggests)

    • waltinseattle says:

      if those then the prize…happiness. being is that true unplotted way. that voice we deny. that authenticity that true “purpose” again words get in the way…purpose is so linked to a goal, a prize. there is no prize. monkey king is the source of belief in prizes..all prizes. being has no plan, nothing to be fixed, nothing to achieve, no where to get to. this is why the true way can not be named or a map given.

  10. Cathy Snow says:

    I am so glad you wrote this article. It will help me figure my depression periods out, better. And I will go back to pchotherapy to help complete the current cycle I am in. Thanks so much, and enjoy the time with your child.

  11. RM says:

    Love this. Thank you for writing it.

  12. Sandee says:

    I say the same thing to people when they have trouble sleeping and there is no obvious physical cause for it. Insomnia is your body's way of telling you that you have something unresolved to work out, and you ought to look for it. When your mind is clear, you sleep. I can see that depression would be the same way. I am learning to listen to the pit in my stomach–when it appears, I know that I need to ask it why it is there, and listen to the answer. It is amazing how your body tries to get your attention to unresolved spiritual or emotional issues.

  13. Bill says:

    It took the better part of 18 months to begin to understand that I was carrying way too much soul debt. I blamed myself for every bad thing that happened to me including what others had done to me. I reached out to and found help in some of the oddest places. But reading something Pema Chodron had said about sitting with the pain and perceived agony I was experiencing was a pivotal moment. Once I was okay with my circumstance I was able to take baby steps back. Today I stand and see that this time although terrifying was most likely the biggest wake up my Soul needed.

  14. giselelupi says:

    Wow, KL…your writing just gets better and better…I have been thinking a lot on this lately…its been 9 months since I last stuck a needle in my arm…but I am now just 14 days opiate free.( I did a substitution pill thing on my own …no doctors) I am coping with the physical, but I am obviously in soul crisis. My warm cotton wool protection is no longer there. I've missed the boat where self/intimacy was concerned, but all through my self harm I have experienced hope and grace.Dad used to say "Nothing is stronger than Nature". Blah blah brain chemicals, sexual abuse I can't remember, lack of bonding at birth….all I have is my breath right now. Even though I feel like I am dying! Thank you for a beautifully written wise article.

  15. Becky says:

    Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

  16. Joe says:

    Step across the sacred text
    Within the inner sanctum,
    Thus purified
    The soul may enter.
    Lay down the vice
    Before you,
    Away "oer" the last threshold
    And sacred text
    The door will close,
    Though leave not your feet
    Behind you.

  17. Stephanie says:

    Beautifully written—I could not agree more about your thoughts about western medicine:

    'This is the conundrum western medical experts find themselves in. Until they can embrace an understanding of the world which includes the spirit, they cannot heal a condition caused by the pain of the spirit.’

    I have always had the feeling of something is missing so why can’t I figure out what it is. It has been debilitating to me. This feeling did not start to become clear until I finally started taking medication. I resorted to the fact that if I took them forever to find myself then so be it. Luckily, I have been lead (after years and years of trial and error) to a physician that does DNA testing. This testing identifies DNA markers that show what medicines I need for the chemical imbalances that are there. It is a slow process but it was really a slow process when I was playing the guessing game with numerous doctors over the years.

    I do agree that some type of psychotherapy should go along with medicines. These counselors are extremely knowledgeable in their field. They have certainly been helpful to me. I mean no disrespect to these counselors but working with them has always stopped short of my missing peace. I feel it is so unfortunate for us who pay for health insurance are so limited with access to services that address “mental health.” We do not have access to the counselors that address the need to delve more into the spiritual aspect. Do you think there are many that do not go deep because of the restraints they have with insurance reimbursement—that it is too non-conventional?

    How can this be changed? What can that collective soul actively do to help this shift of western medicine? For me it can’t seem to happen fast enough! Sometimes I think I am meant to head east and sit and meditate with my guru forever and ever. I then remember that I yearn for the depression to lift so that my soul will guide me to be a rock for my family, a dedicated wife to a wonderful husband and a peaceful mother that can encourage my precious 5 year old to stay in tune to her genuine soul.

    Thanks for sharing! I would love to see more blogs regarding finding that inner peace.

  18. Faye says:

    I can't recommend the book 'The Mindful Way Through Depression' enough…

  19. During my darkest periods of depression I remember thinking and feeling that life wasn’t worth living. Fortunately for me I gained the courage to go to therapy and began my process of healing. After a while, addressing my emotional and psychological issues didn’t truly provide me with the inner freedom I intuitively knew was possible. I then began studying the Soul and everything changed for me. I discovered the true “cause” of my depression which was exactly as the article states. I was out of alignment with my Soul and had not learned to listen to and trust my Souls wisdom. As a result of discovering my Souls journey, I now understand that the Universe had much larger plans for me and my life and now that I’ve discovered my true life’s purpose, I can see how my depression was simply a wake up call to discover who and what I truly am.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and confirming what I know to be true for me. Love the article.

  20. Patrick says:

    I couldn't agree more with this article. It very much ties in to everything I've been reading by Robert Masters in his Spiritual Bypassing and brings everything back to a spiritual foundation.
    Masters writes of "Spiritual Crisis". Man, can I ever relate.
    This connects that idea and builds upon it.

    I know you'll get flak for having written this, but I'm truly grateful that you have.

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