All of Buddha’s teachings stem from compassion. Buddhism strives to free all the beings from any suffering and its causes. In today’s quick developing and busy world, it is natural to fall prey to the most severe and debilitating types of suffering. Depression is a clinically diagnosed mental disorder that interferes with our ability to work, study, eat, sleep and enjoy any pleasurable activities of life.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health illness is on the rise and predicts the likelihood of people to develop more mental disorders during their lives. By 2020, depression is expected to be one of the highest-ranking cause of disease in the developed world.
What is Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy?
Mindfulness based cognitive therapy helps us learn to recognize and understand our thought and feeling patterns, with the goal of creating new, more efficient models. This straightforward method teaches meditation practices by concentrating on breathing, thoughts and feelings, body sensations, accepting and adopting a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness training helps us notice and work with our experience rather than running away from the problems.
When people are depressed, they get caught up in cycles of rumination, where negative thoughts keep running over and over in their minds and triggers low mood. This therapy is perfect for treating depression as it helps in cutting the rumination and teaches us to pay attention to our present moment experience and stops us from getting tied up in negative thinking about both past or future. It helps in creating more space in our minds which result in effective decision-making.
Mindfulness based therapies are backed by rapidly-growing evidence that proves that it helps people cope with not just depression but another spectrum of conditions like chronic pain, anxiety to cancer and HIV.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has endorsed mindfulness meditation as a treatment for depression and today; most mental health communities are offering meditation-based courses.
A report on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) written for the Mental Health Foundation shows that the eight-week courses have reduced the relapse rates by half among people who suffered several episodes of depression. The report also indicates that few patients who can benefit from mindfulness training are referred for the treatment despite the fact that almost three-quarters of doctors believe that it is useful in curing mental health ailments.
Buddhism beats depression
Buddhist principles and tools inspire mindfulness-based therapies. According to Buddha, suffering is created by struggling with experience and mindful meditation is a way to work with it skillfully. Practicing mindfulness can open insights about the nature of the mind, but the most important thing is that the techniques help in bringing down the suffering.
People are turning towards Buddhism to understand the kind of discontentment they are facing and to look for a way to end it. People suffering from depression are also seeking help because of their inability to manage the distress level of their lives.
Buddhism preaches meditation to deal with sadness, to stop cravings like nicotine addiction, to heal relationships and for many other issues. Buddhism practices dialectic conversation and mindfulness training, along with rich therapeutic tools that the mental health community has adopted to help people.
According to an ICM survey of GPs conducted for the Mental Health Foundation report, 64 per cent of doctors displayed interest in receiving training in mindfulness. Morinaga Soko-Roshi, a Zen teacher, taught the technique to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the doctor who pioneered mindfulness training into US healthcare services in the 1970s. Kabat-Zinn was aware that offering Buddhist religious training to his patients will not be unacceptable. However, he believed that these meditation techniques will provide insight on the Buddhist path and will help people overcome their chronic conditions. Unsure of what to do, Zinn went to meet Soko-Roshi who replied, “Throw out Buddha! Throw out Zen!”
Kabat-Zinn’s secular mindfulness based stress-reduction course was born out of this reply. MBSR is taught in many institutions across the US, not only medical settings but also in schools, prisons, workplaces and other community centers. Even in the UK, many universities like the Oxford, Exeter and Bangor are teaching mindfulness. Most NHS trusts lack the infrastructure and personnel to offer the MBCT courses to patients. Although the scientific evidence is persuasive and the GPs are on board, there are not the classes for the people to access.
Does it work?
MDCT has helped in amending the lives of many. Julie Myerson, a renowned English author and critic, took up a six-week NHS-funded MBCT course at the Maudsley hospital in south London to overcome anxiety attacks. She practiced meditation every single day, and her life underwent a drastic change. According to Meyerson, “Mindfulness is not about trying to make a difference, but accepting them as they are, non-judgmentally, with as much kindness and gentleness as possible.”
Comedian Ruby Wax struggled with depression for decades. For years, she has ridden with the mental condition. Ruby calls it as the ‘roller coaster ride’ of depression. Medication helped her but did not cure. Following a series of extensive research, she discovered mindfulness. She took up this ancient meditation practice which had its roots in Buddhism. She says it requires you to spend time paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and sensations. Ruby recounts, “You have to train your attention. Once you train that, you can regulate your focus, and you won’t stay up all night listening to the voices in your head.” She practices mindfulness regularly and has managed to control her mental condition.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has recommended MBCT and has shown it to be as effective as antidepressants. NICE states that MBCT is effective in preventing relapse into depression and has recommended it for people who have experienced three or more episodes.
Regular mindfulness meditation has been shown to develop thicker layers of neurons in the attention-focused parts of the brain and to boost the activation of the left prefrontal cortex which suppresses negative emotions.
Numerous powerful institutions are embracing mindfulness, and their support is based on the hard-nosed evidence than any particular commitment to Buddhism which may change soon.