by Elyane Youssef 

In the past, I underestimated the power of the word depression. I claimed I was depressed every time I woke up disappointed or frustrated. But when someone I love was recently dealing with depression, I realised that we can’t claim to be depressed when we merely feel dissatisfied.

Depression is often the result of a specific trauma or experience. It’s also common for depression to occur without any specific reason. Feelings of hopelessness and restlessness can arise at almost any time of the day.

Depression is a serious medical illness that’s difficult for both the person experiencing it and the people who care about them. My friend lost interest in engaging in any activity, including eating, going out or even leaving her bedroom. Everything upset her and she cried over the smallest things. All of my attempts to make her see the good side of life were in vain.

I quickly realised that we can’t help someone who is depressed by pushing them to see the brighter side of life. That said, we shouldn’t take depression for granted either. Luckily, in the Introduction to Buddhism course I took in India, I learned a few methods for helping to heal physical and mental illnesses.

Although my friend had difficulty sleeping, she swiftly fell asleep when I played Buddhist mantras for her. She told me they calmed her down and put her mind to rest. So I decided to try some of the other methods I learned from Lama Zopa Rinpoche (the co-founder of Tushita Meditation Center where I took my courses) and see if they could help in any way.

While these tips helped my friend, the most important factor was her determination to heal.

If you are experiencing depression, or are trying to help someone who is, start with these two Buddhist techniques. May they be of benefit:

1. Remember Impermanence and Death

One night my friend burst into tears. She held my hand and told me she wanted to die. It might seem shocking, but at that moment, I pulled myself together and told her, “Yes, you are going to die. But why are you rushing it? We’re all going to die and it might happen at any moment.” When I said this, her sobbing unexpectedly stopped. Every time she told me she wanted to die, I affirmed to her that eventually, she would.

Slowly, she appreciated life when she remembered that her death might happen at any moment.

Depression can often lead to suicidal thoughts because the person perceives life as a permanent, unending process. But telling the truth can be helpful; and the truth is this. Life is short.

When we introduce the idea of death and impermanence, we realise that we can die at any moment. And when we realise that death is coming eventually, we can rejoice in the fact that we are alive and stop taking that life for granted.

Depression is often a result of attachment. We are too attached to what we want, and when we don’t get it, it causes us pain.

Remembering that we can die at any moment helps cut our attachment to life and can lessen the constant flow of expectations.

2. Give your depression back to your ego

Buddhists believe that depression can occur when the ego doesn’t get what it wants. When we step back and examine our depression, we recognise that oftentimes there’s a connection between our cherished “I” self and our depression.

I explained to my friend that our egos are quick to play victim when they don’t get what they want. She told me that she understood how we can be happy one minute and then sad the next—like clouds obscuring the sun. She started taking note of when the clouds appeared and obscured the clear nature of her mind. She revisited her past and retraced the events that had troubled her ego, and focused on being aware of the memories that popped up in her mind.

Instead of surrendering to depression, we must give it back to the ego.

I remember telling my friend to envision her ego—her depression—as an enemy at war and to use any mindful weapon to destroy it. By sending depression back where it came from, depression becomes the medicine, rather than the chronic illness.

Depression is a serious problem, so we can’t expect the situation to resolve immediately. Whether we are feeling depressed or dealing with someone who is feeling depressed, we must be patient and try not to feel discouraged.

It took my friend almost 10 months to heal. This helps me stay determined and hopeful, because with effort and determination, we can all start a journey of healing.