Mental disorders are explained in great detail in Ayurveda classics. The mind or manas of each individual is unique. According to Ayurveda, the person should dwell in an atmosphere of pleasantness appropriate to one’s mental constitution. Ayurveda recognizes three main mental constitutions or manasika prakruti– the saatvika, raajsika and taamasika. Any disturbance in the normal functioning of the mind manifests as illness – either psychic or physical. Depression is a serious mental condition that alters the mind’s equilibrium with its environment. There are basically three types of treatments for mental illnesses.

  • Oral medication including Panchakarma.
  • Psychotherapy (counselling)
  • Daivavyaprasharayachikitsa (spiritual therapy) – prayers, performing yajna, charity, yoga, meditation,visiting holy places and penance.
  • A combination of all the above.

Milder forms of depression get relief from psychotherapy itself. But it is generally felt that a combinationof therapies work best. Treatment is given as per the severity of the condition. Certain medications as well as some medical conditions can cause symptoms of depression. The physician should not confuse these symptoms as depression.The causative factors of depression are a sudden shock to the mind byincidents such as death of a belovedor break- up of a close relationship. Itcan also be a symptom of a medicalcondition like a stroke, heart attack,cancer, Parkinson’s disease or hormonaldisorders. A person appearsnormal throughout the day but feelsdepressed only at a certain time ofthe day. A depressed child may pretendto be sick, refuse to go to school,cling to a parent or worry that theparent may die. Teenagers may sulk,get into trouble at school or collegeand be negative and grouchy. Becausenormal behavior varies from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficultto tell whether the child is just going through a temporary phase or issuffering from depression.Women experience depression about twice as often as men. Hormonal factorsmay contribute to the increased rate of depression in women particularlyfactors such as menstrual cycle changes (associated with pre-menstrual
syndrome) pregnancy, abortion, the post-partum, pre-menopause andmenopause periods in life. Stress at work, additional responsibilities at homeand marital discord are also leading factors.Men rarely admit to being depressed.

Depression in men is often associatedwith increased risk of heart disorders. Male depression is often masked byalcohol or drugs, or by the socially accepted habit of working excessively longhours. Depression typically shows up in men, not as feeling hopeless andhelpless, but as irritation, anger etc. Therefore it is quite difficult to recognizethe signs and symptoms of depression in men. Even when a man realizesthat he is suffering from depression, he is twice as reluctant to disclose it tohis family doctor or even to his wife.

From an Ayurveda point of view, most depression can be explained as akapha imbalance. Initially, the brain’s electrochemistry has an erratic overreaction(vata imbalance), which triggers a loss of enzymatic activity in themetabolism (pitta imbalance). Kapha responds by trying to keep everythingdown, bringing about heaviness, darkness and stagnation, which the mindbodyinterprets as the negative message of hopelessness anddepression.
In Vata-depression, the pranavayu in the brain and heart isprovoked by a variety of factors, including terrifying experiences,especially when they occur during childhood, excessive travel, an irregular lifestyle, lack of sleep, excess talking, excess use of the telephone, habitual consumption of foodswhich are dried or frozen or foods which are microwaved, living or working in an air-conditioned room. Both recreational and prescription
drugs provoke thepranavayu, particularly cocaine,amphetamines, speed weight-lossdrugs, caffeine, and antihistamines(including ephedrine).Working night shifts is anothercause of vata depression.

The symptoms of vata depressionsare tremendous anxiety,guilt, paranoia and catastrophicideation. Insomnia or restlesssleep is a classic feature. Thespeech becomes incoherent, theperson is easily distracted, restless,unable to concentrate, forgetfuland spaced-out. Thedepressed person will not deliberatelytry to harm himself or herselfbut may forget to eat – indeedthe main hazard in treatment isthat they will be unable to taketheir herbs regularly and so willfail to improve.

Vata depression should betreated using brahmi tea, brahmighee, and brahmi oil massage.
Saraswatarishtam should begiven 20 ml daily after lunch anddinner. Oiling and sweating usingbrahmi oil will help calm thepranavayu, as will shirodhara or shirobasti. Nourishing oil basti using a brahmidecoction and sesame oil is also valuable in calming the vatadosha.

Pitta depressionis characterized by anger and irritability. In some cases, the
Person is not aware of being depressed, but is obviously angry and very easilyirritated, irrational, and perhaps violent. There may be extreme self-criticismand low self-esteem; or the critical judgmental tendencies may be
directed outwards. Suicidal ideation is a frequent symptom. Pitta depressionis the most dangerous type of depression since in severe cases suicide is adistinct possibility. In more chronic forms of pitta depression, self-destructivebehaviour such as abuse of alcohol and drugs are a common symptom.Even those with pitta depression that are not overtly suicidal often commitslow suicide by inducing conditions such ashepatic cirrhosis. Insomnia is a symptom ofpitta depression but is different from vatainsomnia.

Treatment for pitta depression also consistsof brahmi tea, brahmi ghee and brahmi oil massage.
Saraswatharishtam can be used, combinedwith herbs that are used in sadhaka pitta.These include shankapushpi, rose, sandalwoodand lotus. If there is a history of drug or alcoholabuse, shankapushpi will be tremendouslyuseful in healing the liver as well as in calmingthe mind and balancing the sadhaka pitta. For
overall balancing of pitta, a pitta diet should betaken, avoiding sour, pungent, salty and oilyfoods. Amalaki should be taken at bedtime, halfa teaspoon steeped for ten minutes in a cup ofhot water.

The causes of kapha-depression are a vitiationof the tarpakakapha in the brain by lack ofstimulus. Sleeping in the daytime, excessivesleeping, overeating and excess consumption ofoily, heavy foods can contribute to the provocationof tarpakkapha. Watching TV in excessand lack of exercise are other important factors.Frequently, kapha depression originates inhomes where parents themselves have somedegree of kapha-type depression. For example,the child who overeats resulting in overweight.There is an overwhelming atmosphere of heaviness,emotional denial and holding ontothings. Parents often give food or materialobjects instead of genuine love. The childlearns to become greedy, lazy and attached tofood, money and possessions. These tendencies,passed on through the family tree, causetarpakakapha to become increasingly provoked.

The use of downers such as sleepingpills, sedatives, tranquilizers and alcohol furtherserve to exacerbate kapha type depressionwithin the entire family unit.Patients with kapha-type depression rarelyapproach an Ayurveda practitioner complainingof depression; in fact they deny accepting theirailment in the first place. However, face- readingand pulse reveal depression, deep-seatedgrief and attachment and other obesity-relatedproblems.

In kapha-type depression coupled with obesity,triphalaguggulu can be used. Otherwise,
trikatu can be added to the saraswatharishtammixture for a more stimulating effect.Refraining from sleep during the day and vigorousexercise is essential for the treatment ofkapha-type depression. Vamana or removal ofexcessive kapha by forced vomiting is an excellent remedyfor this condition.

Ayurveda elaborates treatment for depressionnot only with medicine but also with counsellingand touching one’s spiritual base.According to the person’s culture and attitudedifferent methods are used to send positivethoughts to one’s self. There is an element ofself-healing in this process, where the thingsone does for spiritual elevation help to removethe negative vibes from one’s thoughts andassist in healing.
Food – pure, uncontaminated, fresh with alltastes and easily digestible and non- provokingis a very useful supplement for treating depression.