Special Topics

Modern People’s Mental Issues - Chronic Depression

Nowadays, people are troubled by numerous vexations in their daily life. Even though they may not have symptoms of depression, they are often prone to worry and fear. Why are people nowadays so unhappy? What concepts or methods can help combat depression?

Huang Wenxiang, Director of Ping-An Psychiatric Hospital, believes that there are two main reasons why people are prone to depression. The first is that people can't find their direction in life, which makes them become disconnected from their values and focus in life. "Nowadays, we live in a complicated society, where we are constantly bombarded with information and a lot of situations to manage. Without sufficient wisdom, it would be difficult for us to find our purpose and direction in life. If we are unable to find our values and meaning in life, we are easily prone to depression," says Huang. Secondly, modern people are faced with many more changes than in previous times, particularly in their jobs, living accommodations, social circles, way of life, and daily necessities. When people need to take more efforts to adapt to lifestyle changes, they will be subject to more stress.

"Stress isn't necessarily a negative thing. Changes in life are stressful but, at the same time, they also breed opportunities. If we don't know how to adjust our mindset, then these changes can be very overwhelming. In other words, if we can find our direction in life and give it a positive meaning, even when we are under stressful and difficult situations, we are able to think positively and enjoy it as if it were malt sugar. In this way, even if our life seems challenging, it is not painful for us." In the process of giving counseling to his patients, Huang always encourages them to seek out their direction in life and guide them to think and understand deep down what they really need, and what ultimately drives their vexations. He discovers that depression is usually associated with feelings of disappointment, despair, and fear. Some people's depression has resulted in not having found a meaning in life. Others fear losing things they deem important in life, such as reputation, social status, wealth, health, etc. If one chronically feels worried and afraid, eventually one will also become depressed.

The fact that we are often worried and afraid indicates that we are not the masters of our mind. There's an analogy about mental afflictions found in the Sutra of Mind Meditation in Mahayana Jataka: the mind is like a servant who is enslaved by its master and therefore cannot disobey its orders. This analogy emphasizes that when we are bothered by worries or troubles, our mind cannot be at ease and free of its influence. As such, the mind becomes captive to afflictions.

Our mind is heavily afflicted by emotions, so how can we be the masters of our mind? Venerable Kuanqian, Head of the Jue Feng Buddhist Art and Culture Foundation, believes that we need to always be deeply aware of causes and conditions. Buddhism believes in causes and conditions; in fact, all phenomena arise from causes and conditions. Every thought that we have constitutes a cause, be it virtuous or unwholesome. A thought only generates power through the functioning of mind and external conditions. The Venerable emphasized that what people pursue are results, rather than causes. If we fail to achieve a result, it's usually because the causes and conditions are not mature yet. Knowing this, our mind will be at ease and stop seeking outwardly. We will clearly understand that everything in the outside world is just a fleeting and ephemeral phenomenon that arises from conditions, and they will eventually cease to exist. The Venerable pointed out that many people feel depressed because they believe that the world is unfair, which explains why they have less compared to others. However, if we understand the principle of causes and conditions, we will know that everything is fair, and we will be more at peace with ourselves.

The Venerable also talked about why some people always feel wronged and believe that life is unfair. It is because people always have a deep-rooted idea, namely that "I am the most important". This self-centered mindset will easily lead to the feeling of unfairness. This shows that depression is a mental affliction generated from self-attachment.

The Venerable explained that people are easily blinded by what they see right in front of their eyes. Seeing that their blessings in this life are lesser than others, they feel resentful, thinking that the world is unfair. In fact, these blessings are all accumulated through many previous lives and results of causes and conditions. Therefore, it is fair from the perspective of causes and conditions. All of our karmic rewards or retributions have their origins. As to when will they ripen, that is left with the law of causes and conditions and is not for us to worry about. As long as we practice kindness and create good causes and conditions, our situation will improve accordingly.

Extended Reading:

Modern People's Mental Issues - Too many wandering thoughts

Modern People's Mental Issues - Materialistic Obsession

Modern People's Mental Issues - Chronic Depression

Modern People's Mental Issues - Intense Anger

Buddhist Methods for Training the Mind - The Seven Stages to Regulate the Mind

The Key to Training the Mind—Chan Practice

The Key to Training the Mind—Single-minded, undisturbed concentration through Buddha-name recitation

The Key to Training the Mind—A focused mind through upholding a dharani/mantra

Resource: Issue 316 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Venerable Guo Shyang
Translation: 曉菲 
Editing: Keith Brown, Olivia