May 16, 2015

Depression: Medical Diagnosis or Spiritual Emergency?

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Editor’s Note: This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment. Always consult a health professional before trying out new home therapies or changing your diet.


I do not know anyone who, at some point in their lives, has not experienced some form of depression.

I know I have.

From the sadness of minor or major disappointments to the despair that one can feel, even if things are going well, where we find ourselves asking the question “Is this all there is?”

In these times particularly I have found that the best thing to do was to view this like any other illness or symptom, and ask, “What does this mean?” or “what is this symptom, illness or condition trying to tell me or invite me to learn about myself and my journey?”

That said—and regardless of one’s personal circumstances—the prevalence of depression is widespread. In this age of global turmoil (war, institutional corruption, education and healthcare issues, environmental devastation, etc.) we are left to fear for our safety. We have all been affected by such things, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Perhaps the low-grade depression affecting all (or most) of us is a message to put our attention to our spirit so that true healing on both collective and individual levels can occur.

Our perception about depression (or any illness) can give clues to the cause and the possibilities for healing. I have found that spiritual self-inquiry can provide relief, or at direction, moment by moment. It can allow us to delve deeper into who we are, so that we can use that as a basis for true healing.

When we work on and heal ourselves, we also contribute to the healing of the collective.

When I was in ministry school, the diagnosis of depression was presented to us in a less conventional way than that of traditional medicine. I learned that there are three types of Depression: Clinical Depression, Situational Depression, and Spiritual Depression. Clinical depression is that which causes a great deal of pain—seemingly without purpose and perhaps unrelated to any condition or transition—and for which medications are usually the treatment of choice.

Situational Depression is self-evident. Spiritual Depression is depression at the service of a better expression of the person. It usually enters at a turning point or cross-roads in a person’s life. Here there is a deep sense of sadness because of a recognition that there may be a part themselves of which they need to let go of—a part that literally needs to die. It is sometimes even outwardly manifested by the threat of suicide.

The difference between the latter two seems to be suffering at the service of growth, versus needless, non-productive suffering. Given that, I find it curious that examining our connection to our spirituality is thought of last as a therapeutic option.

The use of medication without therapy that includes a spiritual component merely suppresses symptoms and denies an individual of the potential opportunity for spiritual growth and transformation. But as a culture, it is even difficult for us to allow sadness and grief to be present for long. People are uncomfortable with these things as a naturally occurring part of being human. They usually want to fix it at any cost…even the cost of the patient’s inner growth.

The constant in managing all types of depression is that, metaphysically speaking, everything happens for the reason of our growth and transformation.

Even in clinical or situational depression, lessons are presented from which we can learn. The patients that find their way to my office are those for which medication has not provided the desired results—at least not permanently. They are people who feel the numbness that inevitably sets in after months or years on medication—those who have been in psychotherapy for years without any discernible results, or those who consciously recognize their depression as a challenge to grow spiritually, i.e., an opportunity to access the deeper meaning.

As a spiritually-oriented Ayurvedic lifestyle counselor, I help people who have lost—or more accurately, forgotten—that connection to Self, or to the Divine, which may be the source of their problems. Starting with my own belief in the Divine perfection of a person leaves an opening where healing on mental, emotional, and spiritual levels can be facilitated.

I do no do the healing; I just hold the Truth about them at a time when they cannot hold it for themselves.

This means that I see their perfection—their light, spirit or God within that is clouded over, making them unable to “see” that they are more than this condition labeled depression.

This may or may not affect the physical aspect, because as we know, healing and cure are not the same thing. However, by disregarding the spiritual aspects of a person, we are really neglecting that creative-eternal aspect of the individual from which all things originate.

Holding this Truth for them leaves an opening for transformation to begin and takes into consideration that fact that we are spiritual beings first and foremost. Medications and psychological treatment without acknowledgment of this spiritual component overlooks this very important truth which can potentially lead to profound transformation and true healing.

Additionally, I take nutritional/exercise/rest considerations into account since the foods/supplements/practices we consume or do not consume—coupled with when we consume them and whether or not we exercise—can affect brain chemistry profoundly. I have found many depressed patients to be extremely depleted nutritionally, and once balance is achieved in this regard, healing is accelerated because the body can support the process of psycho-spiritual-emotional work more effectively.

We need to develop the ego in order that we may transcend it, making it the powerful servant it was meant to be rather than the tyrannical master it wishes to be. It is only when this occurs that humility, awareness, and accountability can truly be present. The degree of the emergency is directly proportional to the degree the ego requires transcendence. This is when spiritual emergence results in an outcome of true wisdom and healing, thereby alleviating the symptoms originally causing one to search for answers.

Although we know that it is a choice to learn through joy or to learn through pain, it seems to require some degree of pain to take us to higher levels of consciousness whereby we can understand the human condition to its depths and transforming it to its potential. Acceptance of this can be an open door to the powerful transformational forces of depression.

Sometimes it is this mere act of surrender that takes us to a place of humility, and perhaps that is the lesson—to let go, stop trying to analyze, plan or even understand, but to simply accept things as they are. This means being alert to feelings, thoughts, disappointments, and inspirations, and going with the flow rather than pushing against something whose only inclination is to push back.

Breakdown can lead to breakthrough and at all times, the only way out really is through. It means getting to a conscious understanding that metaphysically, illness/disease, whether physical, mental, or emotional, happens for a reason. Depression is such an illness and many times is an invitation to wake up spiritually, regardless of the type or the treatment.

Recognition of the kind of depression one is experiencing may not always be clear. From the highest spiritual perspective, the problem of depression has presented itself (whatever the type); the solution, as with any problem, lies in viewing it from a higher perspective. This can sometimes mean simply acknowledging ourselves as multidimensional beings and learning how to care for ourselves that way.

Sometimes in our desperation, we fervently look for answers in medications, diets, therapists, workshops, gurus, etc., implying that the answers reside outside ourselves.  Perhaps when one is allowed the space to be where they are, and in the presence of someone who sees their Light, freedom is created for one to come full circle to a wisdom in knowing that, all along, the answers have resided within.





Author: Dr. Joanna M. Carmichael

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Eddi van W. at Flickr 

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Rev. Dr. Joanna M. Carmichael, RN, BSN