One in every 20 people in India suffer from depression, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in 12 states. What has changed in society, compared to earlier generations, to cause such a dramatic increase in cases of depression today? If someone is pathologically ill, or clinically depressed, it is something that just comes from within because of genetic and other factors. Such people cannot help it and may need medical help. But that is a certain number of people. The rest are all self-created cases of depression.
What does that mean? If you are capable of causing depression to yourself, you are able to generate substantial amount of intense emotions and thoughts, but in the wrong direction. If you don’t have very strong emotions, very intense thoughts about something, you cannot get depressed. It is just that you are generating thoughts and emotion which work against you, not for you.
In yoga, depression is handled at the level of the body, mind and the energies. If the necessary balance and vibrancy is brought about in the physical, mental and energy bodies, to be blissful is very natural. In a blissful being, depression can never exist.
Balanced body=balanced mind
The fundamental reason why depressive syndromes have assumed epidemic proportions today is that we are eating too much and do not have enough physical activity. Physical activity is a very important part of maintaining the chemical balance in the system. Over the last few generations, our physical activity has decreased substantially. Therefore, maintaining the chemical balance in the system becomes difficult. Depression is just one manifestation of that. Some sit in a corner and sulk. Others, who are bipolar, can get violent. The common approach is to tranquilise them with chemicals, tablets or injections. This destroys the potential of the individual. One of the simplest and best ways of establishing balance is lots of physical activity in a natural environment, ideally from an early age. Another aspect is being consciously in touch with the five elements of nature—earth, water, air, sunlight or fire, and space. In earlier times, human beings had to be consciously in touch with the elements. Suppose you are cultivating land or walking in the jungle, you have to know what is happening with the different elements of nature and how they affect you and everything around at any given moment.
Your food affects your mood
The way you eat not only decides your physical health, but the very way you think, feel and experience life. Trying to eat intelligently means understanding what kind of fuel this body is designed for and accordingly supplying that kind of fuel so that it functions at its best. The type of food we eat also has a huge impact on the mind. An average American is said to consume 200 pounds of meat per year. At the same time, you will see that a large number of people in the West are taking antidepressants at some point in their life. If this meat consumption is brought down, a significant percentage of people will not need antidepressants anymore. Meat is a good food to survive if you are out in the desert or the jungle. If you are lost somewhere, a piece of meat will keep you going, because it provides concentrated nourishment. But it should not be a daily food that you eat when there are other choices. There are many ways to look at this. One thing is, animals have the intelligence to realise in their last few moments that they are going to be killed, no matter how cunningly or how scientifically you do it. Suppose you come to know right now that at the end of this day, you are going to get slaughtered. Imagine the struggle that you would go through, the burst of chemical reactions within you. An animal goes through at least some fraction of that. This means when you kill an animal, the negative acids and whatever other chemicals are in the meat. When you consume that meat, it creates an unnecessary level of mental fluctuation. When we get ourselves into such a mental state and treat our bodies violently, we cannot expect to be peaceful.
In terms of the quality of food that is entering you, vegetarian food is definitely far better for the system than non-vegetarian. We are not looking at it from a moral standpoint. We are just looking at what is suitable for the system—we try to eat food which would make you comfortable in the body. If you want to do any activity properly, it is extremely important that your body is at ease. So, what you eat should be the kind of food with which your body would be most at ease and would not struggle to get nourishment out of.
Just experiment and see, when you eat vegetarian food in its live, uncooked form, what a difference it will make. The idea is to eat as much as can be consumed in its aliveness. A live cell has everything to sustain life. If you consume a live cell, you will see the sense of health in your system will be very different from anything that you have known. Cooking the food destroys the life in it. Eating food after this process of destruction does not give the same amount of life energy to the system. But when you eat natural food, it brings a different level of aliveness in you. If one eats lots of sprouts, fruits, nuts, and whatever vegetables that can be eaten in a live condition, if you bring in at least 30 to 40 per cent live food to your diet, it will sustain the life within you very well and bring a new sense of vitality.
One major cause of depression these days is the lack of emotional security. They cannot really invest their emotions in anyone, because no one will be around for too long. To make it worse, We have created societies which are a constant challenge to live in, always in a mode of competition. There is something called “fight and flight” response within the human being. Irresponsibly, people are using the words, “I like the adrenaline.” You do not understand what adrenaline is. Adrenaline is an emergency device in the system. If a tiger comes at you, adrenaline pumps so that you can escape. But if you simply pump adrenaline and go walking in New York City, you will burst. You are not supposed to be in that state all the time. If you do not die, you will crack up.
Our education systems are heavily demanding. Not everyone is geared for it. For someone, it may be a cakewalk. For somebody else, they may read one sentence 25 times and not get it, but they may be capable of doing something else. “No, we don’t allow them to do something else. They must do this first.” There are so many horribly cruel structures—these are not structures for the well-being of the human being. We are trying to manufacture cogs for a larger machine we have built. We want the machine to live; we do not care what happens to the individual human being. We need to produce parts for that big machine we have built; it may collapse any time. If you are not made of the material to make a proper part for that big machine, you will break in so many ways.
There are some who have come with pathological situations within themselves which may naturally occur, but that is a small percentage. We are responsible for breaking the rest of them.
A human being needs a certain level of psychological, emotional, and physical space, and a certain atmosphere for him to be nurtured. Those atmospheres are missing right from day one; even an infant is not getting it anymore. A child should grow up without concern about what will happen to him. But from the first day of school, he is worried about getting two marks less than the neighbour’s child. This is all rubbish. This will destroy human beings and we think this is performance, well-being and efficiency. No. If you break the human being, what is the purpose of the rubbish that you have created?
A bruised ego
Have you seen this on the streets? When people get into a fight, if there is one man with a little wisdom, if he just handles them right, those people who are trying to kill each other one moment, the next moment, they will drop it, become friends and go off. A violent man’s ego is not as sensitive and it does not need as much nurturing as a depressed man’s ego. He can be very easily settled. But this is not so with the depressed person. Whether he does it consciously or not, he goes on sharpening his knife and cutting his own heart. He will carry this for life. Depressed people only hurt themselves more. Now what is there in you that can get hurt? The mind and the inner nature cannot get hurt. It is only the ego that gets hurt. Fundamentally, that means, you expected something to happen and it did not happen. You expected somebody or something to be your way or the world or the destiny to be your way, and it did not happen. In other words, you are simply against what is happening; that’s all. Maybe you are against a person, maybe you are against a whole situation, maybe you are against life itself. Accordingly, the depression will run deeper and deeper.
Why are you against something? Only because things did not go your way, isn’t it? Why should the whole world go your way? Please know, the world does not go your way; it’s you who should happen the way you want. Depression makes you cynical and is deeply self-damaging.
You must understand mentally, physiologically, chemically, energy-wise—you must clearly understand it doesn't pay to be sick, unhappy, depressed; it doesn't pay. To be joyful and ecstatic, it pays. If you make this very clear to your own biology, to your own chemistry, you will get healthy. If you can turn your mind one way, you can also turn it the other way.
To sum it up, the rise of depression is mainly due to changing lifestyles. Too much eating, not enough activity, no exposure to nature, no contact with the five elements, no emotional security—these are the main reasons why depression has become so widespread in the world today. If we take care of these aspects, we can considerably reduce the incidence and prevalence of depression and other mental disorders.