Mindfulness instead of anti-depressants?

Depression is a crippling condition which can leave us feeling utterly bereft and powerless. It is complex, chemical and emotional; deserves great care and attention and often professional help. At the same time, it is also a perfectly normal human response to certain causes and conditions, some of which we are aware and some not. We are not ‘wrong’ or ‘flawed’ to have it. Who knows, maybe the depression has something useful to tell us about our lives and skilful mindfulness practise will help us inquire into this.

Scientific research and our own experience tells us mindfulness makes a huge difference to those of us who suffer with depression. However, there are two subtle influences that can trip us up if we are unaware.

Mindfulness is often portrayed in such a way that leads us to believe it offers some kind of instant magical transcendence over all of our emotional and physical pain so if it doesn’t, we must be doing it ‘wrong’. It is true mindfulness offers tangible relief, but it is neither magical or instant. It is dangerous to allocate miraculous qualities to mindfulness, as this leads us to have unrealistic expectations. We are setting ourselves up for perceived failure, disappointment and even despair; not so great for those of us already hanging on by our fingernails.

There is also a subtle message from those in so called ‘spiritual circles’ that shames people who take anti-depressants whilst practising mindfulness – it shouldn’t be necessary right? This is utter dangerous bull…. rubbish. For starters, there are different degrees of depression and many reasons why a someone might need and a doctor might recommend, medication. Any vaguely sensible person would not criticise someone for getting a cast put on a broken leg, so why the harshness over a chemical imbalance? So to those of you who brutally judge others and have no medical qualification or personal experience of debilitating depression, this Mindful Delinquent has a spiritual message especially for you.

Sorry a little residual bitterness here at MD HQ. Where was I? Oh yes, Mindfulness is an incredibly powerful tool this is absolutely true, but it can be dangerous to suddenly stop or reduce the dosage of medication without consulting with your doctor first. There are many approaches to depression which can support us; fresh air, regular mild exercise, meaningful connection with others and therapies such as CBT, can all be part of a wider approach solution.

So here is some good news – taking an anti-depressant does not affect our ability to practise mindful meditation effectively. It really does not. I myself take a low dose of anti-depressant and know other practitioners who do the same. I find this, together with regular mindfulness practise and good self care works pretty well for me.

Traditionally Mindfulness had but one primary purpose, to relieve our suffering. This is not a competition about being ‘the best’ or ‘the most spiritual’; it’s about holding the barely tenable pain of depression and the human condition in general, with shed loads of kindness love and compassion. What happens then, happens despite ourselves. We get okay and most importantly, we get okay, when we are not okay. That is the transformative power of this practice – our relationship to what is happening changes and we become sort of……alright. What we don’t do is sprout wings and elevate up the Chiswick High Road.