“The main cause of depression in the world today is too much eating, not enough physical activity.” Jaggi Vasudev, a spritual guru also known as Sadhguru, frequently gives twitter sermons on depression. He confuses depression, a clinical condition with a proven biological basis (also known as major depressive disorder) with negative emotions such as sadness (experienced by healthy humans).

From his twitter account, Alt News found several misleading tweets related to depression, accounting for several widely circulated myths on depression. In this article, we will look at some of these tweets (quoted verbatim in italics) and discuss the scientific evidence on symptoms, myths, causes and treatments of clinical depression.

Symptoms:

“Depression is a kind of agony. If you have become agony and not ecstasy, it is because a large part of your life energy is happening compulsively, not consciously. It is happening as a reaction to external situations.” (tweet)

“Depression means you are committing suicide in installments.” (tweet)

A’kin to other chronic illnesses, depression can feel agonizing but it is beyond a patient’s control to replace agony with ecstasy, or, as it was implied, shift one’s negative emotional state to a positive state.

WHO acknowledges that depression is the most common mental health disability. It can be as debilitating as any physical disability. Everyday actions such as going to work, or, even getting out of bed for the day, can be an effort.

The symptoms of depression vary on the severity of the condition: while mild depression has some impact on life and counselling therapy can help with it, severe depression makes it much harder to deal with everyday activity and can exhibit psychosis like symptoms with a larger physical component such as delusions, hallucinations, lack of self-awareness, changes in the brain structures, etc.

Mr. Vasudev’s tweet on suicide was plain insensitive and false. While depression can cause suicide, not all suicide cases are due to depression and not all depressive patients commit, or have the tendency to commit, suicide.

Lastly, depression can be of several types and there are conditions such as post-partum depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder, where depression is one of the symptoms, not the disease itself.

Causes:

“The main cause of depression in the world today is too much eating, not enough physical activity.” (tweet)

“A life of excess is not a good life. Excess of anything leads to perversion and depression.” (tweet)

“Depression is becoming a pandemic; its origins are complex, from pathology to negative lifestyles. A culture of prevention is vital.” (tweet)

The tweets above suggest that excessive food and sedentary lifestyle are the causal factors for depression. While excessive food or sedentary lifestyle is both correlated to several other illnesses, there is no direct evidence of lifestyle choices as a direct causal factor for depression.

A large majority of people face adverse events, but only a proportion of them acquire clinical depression. The health of the non-affected individuals, who remain healthy following an adverse life event, is not attributed to better coping strategies such as eating healthy or exercising. These strategies may be helpful in dealing with a negative emotion, such as sadness or frustration, but as we will discuss below, depressive individuals have a biological risk factor beyond their control.

With scientific evidence, it is widely accepted that a combination of

  • Biological (genetic vulnerability, pubertal hormones, pubertal timing and development) factors as vulnerabilities, that interact with
  • Environment (negative and adverse life events)

that account for heightened rates of depression in humans.

Study on genetic causes:

There are several studies that have identified various genes that have a major role in major depressive disorder (MDD), commonly known as depression. A study on adoption and twin studies in the American Journal of Psychiatry published in 2000, concluded that while environment was significant to the cause of depression, it is reliant on genetic heritability from biological parents. The study concluded that major depression is inheritable from genes and its inheritability results from genetic influences.

Study on environmental causes:

Another study, published in 1999 in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggested that although stressful life events have a substantial causal correlation episode of major depression, about 1/3rd of the association between stressful life events and onsets of depression is non-causal. This could be because individuals (biologically) predisposed to depression may select themselves into high-risk environments.

Hence, depression has distinct molecular physiology and genetics. A lowered emotional state such as temporary sadness (due to the environment), is not the causal factor without the inherited genes that are linked with depression.

Another example is that of post-partum depression, which is clearly linked with physiological changes in the mother after birth, instead of sheer sadness or grief, and have been shown to be ameliorated with robust anti-depressants. About, 13-19.8% of women experience a mental health disorder, mainly depression, after giving birth.

Temporary negative emotion ≠ Depression:

“Fear, anger, misery, frustration, depression, and despair are all products of a mind that you have not taken charge of.” (tweet)

The above tweet suggests that emotions such as fear, anger, misery, frustration, despair as well as depression are a result of our unguarded consciousness. However, these temporary emotions, apart from depression, are a part of everyday experience of a healthy person. On the other hand, depression is not an emotion but a long-lasting mental disease.

There are significant differences between grief and bereavement as compared to depression:

For some people, it can be difficult to distinguish between grief and depression as they share many of the same characteristics.

Grief or sadness is a completely natural and healthy response to a loss, while depression is a chronic but treatable illness.

While the onset of most depression types is positively correlated with adverse negative life events, sadness and other negative emotions are temporary and will disappear while people who are depressed constantly feel sad, unable to enjoy anything and find it difficult to be positive about the future.

Placing the onus on the patient:

Frustration, discouragement and depression mean you are working against yourself” (tweet)

“Depression makes you cynical and is deeply self-damaging. Depressed people only hurt themselves more.” (tweet)

“Only because you have frozen your intelligence, there is room for depression.” (tweet)

The above tweets are widely circulated myths on depression. Needless to say to anyone who has experienced clinical depression knows that ‘It is not a choice’

While both negative emotions and depression are not ideal state of conditions, the tweets portray that the individual has the power to change depression. With time, negative emotions can be replaced with positive, but it is not the case with depression. The symptoms of depression are that the individual does not have the motivation to make any changes to the condition. Seeking therapy or treatments also require motivation and hence, many are left untreated.

Treatment:

“In yoga, depression is handled at the level of body, mind, and energies. Vibrant and balanced, you will naturally be blissful.” (tweet)

“Today being Diwali, may this period of slow-down of life lead to contemplation, meditation rather than depression.” (tweet)

While the tweets suggest depression is largely a non-physical condition (in the mind), there are studies that suggest that its effects are beyond the ‘mind’. A study published in 2000 in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggested that patients with depression had a significantly reduced (19%) hippocampus region of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotions. This result was mechanistically correlated with lowered glucocorticoid levels in depression and associated with damage to the hippocampus.

A PET scan below compares brain activity during periods of depression (left) with normal brain activity (right). An increase of blue and green colours, along with decreased white and yellow areas, shows decreased brain activity due to depression.

Images of PET scans showing normal brain activity (right) and reduced brain activity due to depression (left)

While research is full of literature on yoga and meditation for depression and anxiety, which is considered an effective ancillary treatment option for patients, not many studies compare effects of yoga with relaxation and/or aerobic exercise, for changes in severity of depression. A large number of these studies were found to be with high risk of bias.

A meta-analysis study, found several low-risk biased studies, that combined 12 randomised controlled trials in 619 participants. In these studies, there was only a moderate evidence found for effects of yoga as compared to usual care, and limited evidence was found for yoga compared to relaxation and aerobic exercise.

Hence, while yoga is certainly effective for mild depression, it has shown limited efficacy in comparison to relaxation or aerobic exercise.

On suicides:

“The rate of suicides propelled by depression & frustration in the US & several other parts of the world is alarming. Raising human consciousness is the only solution to prevent this rapidly unfolding tragedy. (tweet)

This was tweeted following the death of celebrities, Kate Spade & Anthony Bourdain, in the US. While rates of suicides are certainly increasing, more in men (3.53 x) than in women, and a large proportion (estimated at about 60%) is due to depression; frustration in healthy individuals is short lasting.

Conclusion:

Previously Mr. Vasudev had made statements in support of mercury usage in traditional Indian medicines and Alt News had explained why this was dangerous.

While he is known for several pseudoscientific claims, such as converting liquid mercury into solid clay like substance, with his bare hands, at room temperature, the topic of depression frequently reappears.

In the light of his tweets, it is evident that Mr. Vasudev and other such spiritual gurus use Yoga, Ayurveda and other similar traditional ancient Indian practices, often completely pseudoscientific, to capitalise on the largest mental health problem of the world. Since, myths and misinformation on mental health conditions are widely prevalent, these spiritual Gurus use ancient knowledge, religious symbolism and, in this case, their fluency of the English language, to misinform the people and shaming them of their lifestyle choices.

Hence, it is imperative to raise awareness on depression as a major disorder- with intrinsic biological basis, its symptoms, causes and its robust clinical treatments that work, and its ancillary treatments such as yoga or relaxation and exercise that can help with the condition.

For more information, refer to the WHO website pages on depression. If you think you may be depressed, immediately refer to your physician.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts or attempts, call any of these helplines: Aasra (Mumbai) 022-27546669, Sneha (Chennai) 044-24640050, Sumaitri (Delhi) 011-23389090, Cooj (Goa) 0832- 2252525, Jeevan (Jamshedpur) 065-76453841, Pratheeksha (Kochi) 048-42448830, Maithri (Kochi) 0484-2540530, Roshni (Hyderabad) 040-66202000, Lifeline 033-64643267 (Kolkata).

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ShikhaHiteshAshwinRohitDaniel Nelson, MPsych Recent comment authors
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Anshul
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Anshul

He is a fake guru, surviving because of his mindless, but well educated shishyas. He has been exploiting people with his pseudo spirituality, lifestyle and English. He should be stopped before he becomes a joke or danger or both.

Pran
Guest
Pran

Doctor have you tried the inner engineeing program.

Ankit
Guest
Ankit

She could have explained her point without pointing to sadguru as we all know he often uses phrases figuratively and only a moron will do the dna test of his words.

Jaggu
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Jaggu

I used to think that Jaggi is a sensible and rational person till I read his explanation on why people should fast during solar eclipses (this was around the time of the solar eclipse few months ago). This guy’s pseudoscience can really be dangerous.

Ram Dargad
Guest
Ram Dargad

Such sermons of Sadguru should not be taken seriously as he is not a medical expert but expresses his views figuratively based on his understanding. I don’t expect them to harm the patient though may not help either. The basic contention of the author is that depression patient does not have control over his condition, contrary to Sadguru’s tweets. This is largely true but may not be totally true. Request author to comment on my following view: I think, Some patients who understand medical science of depression & apply it can come out of it faster than those who dont.… Read more »

omnivor
Guest
omnivor

We get all the figurative expressions and explanations that we need in life from Bollywood. We don’t need this Sad-guru.

ATUL SAPRE
Guest
ATUL SAPRE

The least that this sadhguru should do is to accept his utter ignorance – but being a corporate guru he needs to pontificate on every thing without ever taking the trouble to offer caveats

Vinayak
Guest
Vinayak

See everyone is right at there own places. Dr. Apne tarike se baat karti hai. Sadhguru apne tarike se. Its a small topic and this post has made a lot out of it for their personal or dont know what intrest. Instead posting such articles dr. Must come to society to heal their problem online or offline.
That would be much better way.

Dipak Basu
Guest
Dipak Basu

Satguru is fake. He read nothing. his justification is that it would clatter his mind. Thus he knows nothing. He made a lot of money by being a pet of the DMK leaders.

AKB
Guest
AKB

Sadhguru is another pretentious chutya that we can do without. People should never take their words seriously.

Hitesh
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Hitesh

Great thoughts, bro! Where are you from?

S Narayan
Guest
S Narayan

The great Guru is not an expert in Medicine , cosmology , Nuclear physics,water management etc etc But he thinks he is and is broadcasting pseudo science and mostly irratioanal ideas using his excellent gift of the gab! Many litterates are impressed . It is worth investigating his “purvashram” !

Ansh
Guest
Ansh

Article hindi me likha kijiye pl english kachchi hai aur me apke saare article padhna chahta hu… or jin dosto ko apka article send karta hu unko to bilkul hi nhi aati…

Suyash Pandey
Guest
Suyash Pandey

Madam your name suggests you are a muslim.That is enough for me to understand your neutrality

ATUL SAPRE
Guest
ATUL SAPRE

This is the example of an upper caste Hindu trying to deflect the real feeling of imagined victim hood on the religion of the writer

Suyash Pandey
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Suyash Pandey

So you bring caste into all this.By my surname you thought that i am a Uppercaste.Well to inform you i come from OBC Category and Sadhguru also belongs to from Most Backward Castes Category.

P.M.PAREETH
Guest
P.M.PAREETH

when a serious discussion is going on why do you spit venom?. If you dont have anything to contribute try to listen to what your fellow beings have to say instead of spoiling the sanctity of the atmosphere by casting aspersions on the avowed religion of the writer.

Pallavi
Guest
Pallavi

Hi ALT NEWS. I respect the work you do. But this article has put me off. I speak from my own experiences in life. Whenever somebody gives a simple explaination of some illness, an explaination which relates to working on inner self and our body, some people jump to ask ” but what about the scientific data”… Western science looks at ourselves from outside whereas Indians look at ourselves from inside. For example Mahatma budha. What budha was saying through his internal experiences, ie, we are all made of particles, and so we are not solid as we appear to… Read more »

Nanda Kishore
Guest
Nanda Kishore

Your point overall is a good one, and while yoga, meditation and lifestyle changes can undoubtedly help, do keep in mind that a lot of people may be looking to Mr Vasudev as a sort of a modern day Buddha, which is dangerous. There are real examples of people stopping proven treatment methods and resorting to so called traditional methods and paying the ultimate price for it. That is the risk and it is important to guard against such irrational behaviour. Mr Vasudev has a penchant for making sweeping and patently incorrect statements and it is that pattern of behaviour… Read more »

Pallavi
Guest
Pallavi

And to add to what I said. Even a heart disease can be heriditary, but a person need not get heart disease because of that, he will get it because of his wrong lifestyle and food choices surely. Secondly medicine for mental health should be the very last option. You may want to look at this video– “psychiatric drugs are more dangerous than you ever imagined”–https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=luKsQaj0hzs

Atul sapre
Guest
Atul sapre

Thanks for this. The Sadhgurus of this world need to be countered. This guy creates an image of someone who is full of wisdom but my gut level feeling is that he is the corporate guru like the Asaram – popularised by the unsubstantiated victim hood experienced by the upper caste Hindus –

rohit sharma
Guest

clear point

Dr David Stanley
Guest

The article is based on Sadhguru’s Twitter Feed. The author should have taken time to cover Sadhguru’s YouTube talks, Sadhguru Blog Articles and talking to many Inner Engineering Program Participants.

The author’s understanding of Sadhguru as well as cure for depression would be exactly opposite of the conclusion here.

Daniel Nelson, MPsych
Guest
Daniel Nelson, MPsych

I don’t pay much attention to so-called Gurus, but Dr Shaikh is wrong: there is no proven ‘biological basis’ for any mental health condition including “Major Depressive Disorder;” her statements are just a rehash of the marketing concocted by the psychiatric/pharmaceutical industry. 50 years ago, psychiatrists considered depression an acute condition that would correct itself over time without medical help – but there is no profit in that. Modern psychiatry has pathologized every normal human condition/emotion (including sadness) so they can medicate said condition/emotion and profit from it. What would Dr Shaikh have you do if you are ‘depressed?’ Take… Read more »

Rohit
Guest
Rohit

The pharma industry wants to treat everything only with chemicals because it is profitable.

Ashwin
Guest
Ashwin

Here is my experience with Sadhguru’s Isha yoga. I attended a two and a half day hatha yoga program at Isha yoga center, not expecting to get any great benefits, just to get instructions for yoga poses. After the program, I found that an ankle injury I had carried for nine years healed by itself. I had sustained the injury in 2005, while playing football, and I could no longer play after that, but after attending the program, it healed completely, and I could play football again. I had not informed anybody at Isha Yoga about my injury, and they… Read more »

Hitesh
Guest
Hitesh

Doctor will do well to study a little bit of mind-body connection, yoga and spirituality and other teachings of Mr Vasudev and other similar teachers, to put these tweets into context before venturing into dissecting his tweets. Reacting to tweets is taking statements out of context. She would also do well to understand and study the evolution and limitations of Western medicine. She is novice to the alternative approach and should avoid entering into that territory. As far as one can see, Mr Vasudev has not attacked position of Western medicine and only that limited attack, if made, calls for… Read more »

Hitesh
Guest
Hitesh

Physical activity is connected to metabolic rate and metabolic rate to depression. The metabolic rate is the speed at which chemical reactions take place in the body and varies because of several factors, including age, gender and inherited factors. Metabolic rate is also affected by the: proportion of muscle to fat in the body. amount of exercise and other physical activity. That is why so much emphasis on physical exercise. Particularly for depression -as per Western medicine. The starting sentence quoted by Doctor attributed to Mr Vasudev will be supported by Western medicine as regards activity. Doctor would do well… Read more »

Hitesh
Guest
Hitesh

How Meditation And Yoga Can Alter The Expression Of Our Genes Alice G. WaltonContributor Pharma & Healthcare I cover health, medicine, psychology and neuroscience. For those who are still skeptical about whether mind-body practices like meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi actually work, a new study goes further in laying out how they affect us—right down to the level of our genes. The new review, published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, looks back over a number of previous studies on the effects of the different practices on gene expression. It turns out that the practices all seem to have a… Read more »

Shikha
Guest
Shikha

Dont diss the yogic sciences. They work.
In 2012 I went through an acute psychological problem, that caused a lot of psychological as well as physical pain. Using just yogic and meditation techniques, and some changes in my diet, I was able to come out of it completely. No need for medicines or drugs.