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Buddhist wisdom for bipolar disorder/manic depression

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  • Buddhist wisdom for bipolar disorder/manic depression

    To Ajahn Brahmali, and all monastics at the Bodhinyana and Dhammasara monasteries,

    Thank you all for the beautiful light and the kindness you spread throughout our world.

    I was wondering what Buddhist wisdom you might share for people suffering from bipolar disorder, or the symptoms of such a condition? How would this wisdom translate into practical ways of addressing such symptoms, for example paranoia and severe mood swings?

    Your thankful Texas friend,

  • #2
    Dear Erica,

    Some years ago, apparently, the National Health Service in the UK found that meditation was the best way of treating depression, better than medication or counselling. Just sitting quietly for a few minutes and perhaps listening to a guided metta meditation on your ipod can be very helpful.

    But it is also good to deal more specifically with the underlying causes of the problem. Although a bit of meditation is immediately helpful, Buddhism does not normally offer quick fixes. Rather, it is a matter of generally applying Buddhist principles of ethics, kindness, compassion, peace, etc., and then gradually see an improvement in one's sense of well-being. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to do some sort of charitable work. A study that was done in the US a few years ago showed that the most effective way of overcoming depression (meditation was not included in the study) was to actively go out and help others. You feel good about yourself when you help others (and that's ok!) and you tend to be less preoccupied with your own problems, which in turn lessens the suffering.

    It is also good to investigate the causes of the problem. You will find that depression (or whatever the problem is) comes from a certain way of looking at people and events around you. You are perceiving the world in a certain way. Once you see that, you can ask yourself whether there isn't a better way of looking at things. And of course there is. The alternative way is called metta, compassion, forgiveness, etc. It is not always easy, but it certainly is very worthwhile.

    In general, if you keep going on the spiritual path you will gradually improve.

    Good luck!

    With metta.


    • #3
      Dear Ajahn Brahmali,

      I have a good friend who is very depressed right now. I already thought a few times about suggesting meditation to him. I am very sure he will benefit from it, even more after reading all the above. But he is a rather straight forward, down to earth person. He is not much into the 'alternative medicine stuff' as he calls it. I explained to him that buddhism is very straight forward and practical, and has nothing to do with alternative medicine or weired stuff. Same goes for meditation. Besides that, he is consulting a psychologist which does a lot of good for him. But he falls back terribly now and then. Maybe meditation could be a help at such moments but I hesitate to suggest it to him; I don't want to interfere with the psychologist consultations, and of course I don't want to be blamed if he feels worse at a certain point. Do you have a suggestion on how to proceed?


      • #4
        Dear Jo,

        It may well be that his psychologist is already familiar with the benefits of meditation for overcoming depression. This sort of knowledge is now very much mainstream. Perhaps you could simply suggest to your friend to ask his psychologist.

        Otherwise, if he is a down to earth person, he might be persuaded by scientific evidence. Maybe this article will be persuasive, or perhaps this one. If you have look on the web, I am sure you can find other articles that might be even better.

        Good luck!

        With metta.


        • #5
          Thank you Ajahn, I will show hime those articles and have him ask his psychologist.



          • #6
            Thank you very much Ajahn Brahmali


            • #7
              Depression is not the same as bipolar. What often happens to set a bipolar swing in motion is that people start by being happy by some life event. I once observed a person i knew go into mania when he started a new romance. This gradually develops into mania - a high that is so high the person cannot sleep, starts having delusions of grandure and loses touch with reality. The mania leads to depression. This is a common pattern. However i have noticed that in the US, many people are being diagnosed with bipolar that would not be diagnosed that way in Australia. Many of those people being diagnosed with bipolar in the US would be diagnosed as borderline personality disorder in Australia.

              Another internet friend i have with bipolar got her first episode when something went wrong at work. I don't know exactly what happened but i think my friend might have made a mistake. She is a nurse and loves her job. I think the mistake did not happen through carelessness or neglect but through some accident. I imagine it was a serious and perhaps someone died as a result but i don't really. It has to be bad becuase she never wanted to talk about it. But she insisted she had the support of her boss in this. Anyway the stress involved in this experience brought about the mania. And then the mania lead to a deep long depression.

              Another real life friend i know who suffers from bipolar was originally a public servant. She was no longer in that role when i knew her. But whilest i knew her she was trying to work as a teacher at tafe. She always had difficulty with being on time and this started some problems at work. She also had had a boyfriend who used to use up all her money. He was a bit of a psychopath i think. Her son was diagnosed with bipolar whilst i knew her. He had not been diagnosed when i first met her and he had his first episode during this periods. He was a university studying and i think the stress of studying triggered his first episode. He was a violent type of manic person. His mother told me that he threw a tv at her. He had not been violent like that before. Luckily for him, he got good treatment and was quickly stabilised.

              Usually it is stress that leads to either a manic or depressive episode so you can use meditation to keep stress down and to try see things more clearly.

              There is not simple way to teach people how to see teh events around them more clearly but that's what one needs to learn how to do in order to avoid exacerbating your mental state and causing stress.


              • #8
                paranoia is a symptom of schizophrenia not bipolar disorder. I think most of the time people misunderstand the nature of mood in bipolar. Mania and depression are not usually seen as mood swings. People who get angry easily are not usually bipolar. However in some people extreme anger is a symptom but its probably not a common expression in women. I think violence related to bipolar is more common in men.


                • #9
                  I talked to my friend about meditation, and in fact his psychologist had already suggested a mindfulness course. Unfortunately he see's nothing in it which causes him to ignore the advice for the greater part. It's his choice, I can't and won't force him to do it of course, and neither does the psychologist.



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