Q: Is depression curable? Why or why not?
A: I personally know several people who came out of significant depression simply from learning and practicing the Transcendental Meditation® technique (TM), two were close friends. But that’s just anecdotal. Below I explain why what you get from the practice of TM is the ONLY cure. But first, the important boring stuff: hard science.
I’m not aware of any very long term research on TM or any other intervention specifically demonstrating a “cure” (that would take government funding) but there is a lot of scientific evidence that Transcendental Mediation can dramatically improve depression and related conditions quickly. Here are four peer-reviewed published studies that show it:
- Brooks J.S., et al. Transcendental Meditation in the treatment of post-Vietnam adjustment. Journal of Counseling and Development, 64: 212–215, 1985.
- Kniffki C. Tranzendentale Meditation und Autogenes Training- Ein Vergleich (Transcendental Meditation and Autogenic Training: A Comparison). Munich: Kindler Verlag Geist und Psyche, 1979.
- Geisler M. Therapeutiche Wirkungen der Transzendentalen Meditation auf drogenkonsumenten (Therapeutic effects of Transcendental Meditation on drug use). Zeitschrift fur Klinische Psychologie 7: 235-255, 1978.
- Ferguson P.C., et al. Psychological Findings on Transcendental Meditation. Journal of Humanistic Psychology16: 483-488, 1976.
Three more recent studies are found here:
- Transcendental Meditation for Depression | Psych Central News
- Research on TM and Depression – TM for Veterans
Depression is just one category of benefits to mental health from practicing TM, more can be found here.
Often related to depression is a heavy load of stress, which TM is also very effective at reducing. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a stressed state without any effective pharmaceutical or psychotherapeutic treatment. PTSD is often associated with depression and suicide. More veterans died from suicide than died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some have had some success with various treatments like bonding with farm animals or pets, but I’ve not seen anything nearly so dramatically effective as shown by this study using only Transcendental Meditation.
This study below shows refugees who were tested as having high and rising levels of symptoms of PTSD during the 90 days prior to learning the TM technique. Within 30 days of practicing TM, their symptoms fell to a level considered “non-symptomatic.”
Below is a similar study. Both these studies were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Traumatic Stress.
There are, in fact, hundreds of scientific studies that show dramatic short and long term benefits for mental health, physical health, and social behavior from the practice of Transcendental Meditation.
You might ask, “What about other meditation techniques?” The findings on that have been compared in a number of meta-analyses; here is one meta-analysis of 146 studies on the relative effectiveness of various techniques. While this one is comparing Trait Anxiety, it is relevant because trait anxiety is often associated with depression, both of which are the direct result of stress:
The most interesting thing about that study is that not only is Transcendental Meditation showing a far bigger effect in reducing trait anxiety than all other techniques, the other techniques were found to be no more effective than the Placebo Effect, and over half were found to be even less effective.
How does Transcendental Meditation differ from other meditation techniques to achieving these results? NOT by thinking about this or that problem or “feeling” this or that emotion, NOTHING to do with any type of activity. It’s simply by letting the attention go to it’s own source of all thought, the source of all creativity and energy, the source of happiness — pure consciousness.
Yes, pure consciousness is the source of happiness. If you doubt that, it merely means you haven’t experienced it. Yet.
It’s a common misconception that happiness is something here or there, having this or that thing, being in love, having lots of money — having ANYTHING outside of oneself. The truth is the ONLY source of happiness is WITHIN you. And it’s exactly the antidote to depression.
Most people don’t have a clue how to get to that source of happiness directly, it’s just not in our culture’s common knowledge, but it should be. Getting to one’s happiness within is actually incredibly easy and natural — but it requires learning how to do it correctly since the vast majority of humanity long ago forgot how to maintain connection to that happiness, which brought on all sorts of suffering and misery for millennia.
How does Transcendental Meditation deliver this antidote to depression? It’s simply by bringing the attention to one’s own pure consciousness itself — one’s own SELF, beyond thoughts — rather than the attention being directed outward to everything else. Being in the SELF alone is a unique and blissful experience that is hard to describe.
It is also true that one’s mental state, including depression, has a chemical correlation in the body, and deep depression can have a powerful chemical correlation. This happens from circumstances that are perceived in a certain way, meaning the cause of depression is the direction one’s own mind has taken in perceiving the outer world, creating a chemical imbalance. One should consult professional help in serious cases of depression. Do not be alone in dealing with this situation. And do not despair that there is no way out.
Because the mind can literally change the chemistry in the body simply by what it experiences, whatever one puts attention on, this is also the solution. This is why experiencing the bliss of the SELF —pure consciousness — is THE antidote to depression and other mental afflictions. That bliss of the SELF is always there, always peacefully silently embracing, without any judgement or demands or conditions. Bringing the attention there is like coming home where one can just BE one’s own SELF, rest and recharge at the deepest level possible. Transcendental Meditation allows the mind to dive into subtler and more peaceful levels of the mind until it comes to rest in the blissful peace of the SELF, one’s own source of thought.
Quite automatically the body chemistry gets changed to reflect that deep restful peace. Serotonin levels — a direct influence of mood — rise significantly without any thinking or doing. It’s an automatic byproduct of the process of TM. (This is just one chemical change, there are various others such as reduced cortisol, the “stress” chemical).
Notice that in this chart the TM practitioner begins with a serotonin level over twice as high as the Control and ends the meditation session with serotonin 3 times as high. Not only is it rising during TM, through regular practice the baseline level rises to higher and higher levels, effectively eliminating depression. There will always be ups and downs in life, but over time the ups get higher, and the downs will not be so low as before. And the resilience against depression grows strong.
Basically it all boils down to this: mental activity (thoughts, sensory stimuli, emotions) is NOT the answer to curing depression. And certainly not drugs. ONLY experiencing that source of happiness and energy and creativity at the source of all mental activity will do it. Deep restful alertness in bliss. There is no better way. In fact, bliss is exactly what is missing in a society where there is an epidemic of depression and all sorts of other psychological disorders.
This is not detatching from reality. To experience the source of thought is to experience REALITY itself. Then the power, and bliss of the source of thought gets brought into the realm of activity; that is what brings the transformations seen in the research.
This is nothing new, for centuries mankind has been reminded, “Know thyself.” Transcendental Meditation is the most direct and effortless way to bring the attention to that source of happiness within. But you may ask, “What about other techniques of meditation?”
Other techniques of meditation are slower at best in producing the results because they all keep the mind active on some thought (staring at candles, focused on breath, or emotions or sensations etc.). They all keep the attention near the surface of the mind. They all have an object of attention that the mind remains associated with throughout, preventing it from slipping beyond the thinking process into the source of thought. If the mind slips into the deep silence of pure consciousness, it is IN SPITE OF such techniques, not as a direct result. The mind gets fatigued from all the activity but happens to remain somewhat awake. This is why it can take years for many to experience pure consciousness for the first time with techniques like that.
TM lets the attention dive directly to the bottom of the mind and then transcend all thinking to blissful pure transcendental consciousness. It’s effortless. It even uses the natural tendency of the mind to get there, which is why it is such a natural technique. Deep rest results, stress gets dissolved, energy is gained. Serotonin levels rise quickly, right during the 20 minute session. Once you learn the technique of Transcendental Meditation, you have this tool for getting to your own happiness for life, nobody can take it away from you.
There is much more to learn about this source of happiness within. I’ve just given a brief sketch of it in terms of your question, but there are many facets that Transcendental Meditation spontaneously improve in all areas of life: mind, intellect, ego, behavior, relationships, luck, etc. You can find out more by going through some of the 300+ Quora answers I’ve given by going to my profile. Just click on my name at the top of this answer.
You might also like to read more about how this experience of the source of thought transforms all aspects of our life. Here is a good reading list:
If this answer raised questions, ask it in the comment and I’ll add it to the answer.