Meditation and mental illness

Robin Woods, modified 2 Years ago at 10/30/21 2:52 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/30/21 2:51 PM

Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 191 Join Date: 5/28/12 Recent Posts
Re: the warning at the start of MCTB, I just wondered if any consensus had formed on here re: whether the mentally ill should meditate. 

If someone has ever experienced psychosis, I assume it could be quite risky and the individual would probably be confined to playing out their misery within the confines of the Western healthcare system. 

But what of more ‘common or garden’ anxiety/depression. Despite Daniel’s warning, I remember being very impressed on the old KFD site by the number of people who claimed that Pragmatic Dharma had effectively cured their anxiety/depression. So this was probably principally what influenced me to just go for it and take the risk…

It definitely worked (at first anyway) and after second path I was able to re-engage with and enjoy life again. 

Until COVID. To my considerable and eternal shame/embarrassment- I think I fundamentally misunderstood/perceived ‘non-duality. Because I no longer felt like a separate, secure entity encased in skin I think it massively increased my anxiety because I felt like the the contagion was already inside ‘me’ and I had a massive mental and physical breakdown. 

I now find myself out of work and severely depressed/anxious. ALL psychiatric medication has stopped working for me. 
​​​​​​​
I guess I feel my last chance would be to try and note my way out of it? I don’t even see what I have to loose or how anything could get any worse? 
George S, modified 2 Years ago at 10/30/21 4:11 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/30/21 3:49 PM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 2722 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Thoughts are just thoughts. They don't have any meaning outside of thought space, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of overall sense experience. Focus on what is actually going on in your body, the actual physical sensations, regardless of what you happen to think about anything. The mind is just reacting to get away from what's going on in the body, the unfelt emotions. Just my experience/opinion, not professional psychiatric advice (which I assume you are already getting?)
thumbnail
Papa Che Dusko, modified 2 Years ago at 10/31/21 7:16 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/31/21 7:16 AM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 2926 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
Yes. I suffered from combat PTSD for years. All of it as well as paranoia as if something will attack me any moment. Checking if I locked the main door several times in the evening just to be sure. Any tiny sound would make my heart pump into adrenaline! 

Then break down and talk therapy did not much help. Found Reiki Hands On self healing in 2008. Did it daily. Then in 2009 found Aikido style Ki-breathing and did that for a year, daily. Got me all the way up to 5th Samatha Juana. Loved it so much as it felt so safe. Safest space I ever experienced in my insecure life (life without parents). Then I lost it and so wanted it back. Still I enjoyed the sits and life. 

However, tapping into this infinite space did something and my panic attacks, flashbacks and paranoia vanished. 

I kept looking for other practices and found Calm-abiding Samatha in 2010-2012 practiced daily. This lead all the way into DN and I lost it but had no issues with PTSD as such. However the DN bleed through was clear with other people and I was struggling to get back my lively meditation. 

Anyway long story short;

several years without practice and in the same year within a few months I lost my beloved dog, my beloved cat and my beloved father in law. I lost it totally. Paranoia was full on back!!! And I mean it. Panic attacks also. I really was in bad shape. 

So I went for talking therapy for couple of months and I started to feel better. I liked this old therapist fellow. We clicked. I think it's important to like the therapist one works with. 

Then after a year or so I felt DN struggle being impossible to live with but I was ok psychologically and I decided to just poke full on noting together with Kenneth Folk as my one on one teacher. This worked well for me. 

Stopped with SSRI meds a few months after the cessation. Still off medicine since then (end of 2019 or start of 2020 , don't remember) Btw, started with SSRI back in 2011. 

This is my experience. I'm not offering any suggestions just sharing what happened to me. 

Best wishes Robin! 
thumbnail
Dream Walker, modified 2 Years ago at 11/1/21 10:19 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/1/21 10:19 AM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 1759 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Hey Robin,
Been a while since we hung out. Life has been a horrible yoyo for me, not to compare but meditation has been what keeps me going.
It doesn't always bring nice things especially working on 3rd path. Look at my 'framework of awakening' again and pick some nice off the cushion meditations. start with the visual exersizes, they are fun walking around gentle stuff that brings nice permanent upgrades. If you have panoramic done work on some other visual upgrades. then work on other doors. Don't need to note, just notice and tune into and stay on stuff. It is fun and quick if you can stay on it especially is you can stay on a flower for hours to EQ. When you get it, you just nudge it back when ya loose it.
Anyway, reach out to me if you want to video chat, we can compare our shitty curcumstances and trade advise.
Good luck,
~D
thumbnail
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 11/4/21 2:52 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/4/21 2:49 PM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 7134 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
I don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all answer to whether people with mental illness should stay away from meditating. I have personally chosen not to stay away from it, and I don't regret it. I'm pretty robust despite my tendencies towards depression and anxiety (and even something that's at least vaguely similar to hypomania at times, and some mild hallucinations and a history of dissociative seizures) and I find that meditation keeps me sane. The adverse affects from energetic stuff occurred much more frequently before I started practicing, whereas meditation together with yoga helps healing them. I haven't been able to quit my antidepressants because of the practice, and I don't expect that I will either. I seem to have chronic imbalance in my neurotransmitters. That's just part of living with this body, just like I need glasses and sometimes get a cold or a stomach flue. I have no doubts that meditation can have a destabilizing effect on some people. I think each and everyone of us needs to get to know ourselves well enough to find our own answer as to whether or not a practice is good for us. However, I'm not so sure there's always a real choice. Sometimes the dharma just happens to us. It sort of did for me, and it didn't take no for an answer, so I might as well go with it and refrain from freaking out. 
thumbnail
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 11/4/21 2:56 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/4/21 2:56 PM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 7134 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
By the way, sorry for proselyting, but have you tried regular hatha or vinyasa yoga? For me it's a central component to managing my depressive tendencies. It also helps my meditation practice.
shargrol, modified 2 Years ago at 11/5/21 5:14 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/5/21 4:53 AM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 2564 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
The problem of "meditation and mental illness" is similar to the problem of "physical injury and exercise".

When someone is physically injured there is still a need for gentle exercise for the body to heal and recover, but there is also a risk that too much exercise will cause more injury. So the real trick is to find a physical therapist who can provide exercises that help heal the body without retraumatizing it. Of course if we don't have access to a therapist we can still make progress on our own, but we need to get smart and go very very slow. We should read all we can about our physical injury and test out some of the methods suggested for healing and go very very slow. But if we're serious about getting to physical health quickly and without a lot of mistakes, then seeing a physical therapist is the way to go.

In the mental health world, the best people to work with are therapists. These people are skilled at slowly teasing out our psychological blind spots and the ways we self-sabotage our best efforts to be mentally sane. They are also good at helping us remember to do the things we already know we need to do -- things like nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stuff related to work and finances. So I would suggest researching and seeking good references for a therapist. Ideally talk with friends or aquaintances that personally recommend their therapist. Take your time and don't rush, but spend some time looking. There are many ways to use hotlines to find help, too (for example https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/immediate-help or https://www.nami.org/help in the U.S. --- just google "mental health hotline" and include the state/country where you live). A lot of these groups will also help people find free or low-cost services.

Of course if you don't have access to a therapist you can still make progress. You just have to get smart and go slow. We should read all we can about our mental disease --- read about depression, anxiety, etc.; read personal accounts of people who have had these problems and gotten better; read about what treatments are available that you can do on your own --- and test out some of the methods suggested for treatment. But if we're serious about getting to mental health quickly and without a lot of mistakes, seeing a mental health professional is the way to go.

Meditation is always easy to add into the mix. We're always able to sit down and spend time noticing the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that appear in the present moment. This can help bring clarity... or it might make someone more depressed/anxious. Again, if we're doing this on our own, we need to go slow. Even with a meditation teacher, meditation isn't always the best modality for making changes in our life. It can help, for sure, but it doesn't mean it's the first and only thing we should use to make change happen.

The best way to fix our problems is to directly fix our problems with the modality that works directly on our problem. It's never good to "just meditate and hope it works", because it is rarely that simple. 

Best wishes for your work situation and your mental health! I remember being unemployed for months and it was a crushing blow to my self-esteem (and finances). Eventually I started working again, but I had to work as a laborer despite my education and employment experience. Still it was good to get out of my head and just do some work and make some money. It helped with my depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Eventually things got better, but it was one of the most difficult times in my life.

Hope this helps in some way.
Brandon Michael Rohe, modified 2 Years ago at 11/7/21 8:57 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/7/21 8:57 AM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 17 Join Date: 6/1/21 Recent Posts
I think your issues are being caused by misunderstanding in nonduality as you suggested. I've met and responded to a number of people on another forum I frequent who run into similar issues. I don't think meditating or noting more is the real solution here IMO. It would probably be more effective to speak with someone who has a deep understanding in nonduality in order to work through the misconceptions. This isn't just a Buddhist question. There are many other slices of the pie to unpack to get this right. 

Feel free to shoot me an email if you want to discuss it. I have a few psychiatric diagnoses myself. It definitely adds a lot of complexity to the situation. 

​​​​​​​bmrohe@gmail.com
thumbnail
Jonas E, modified 1 Year ago at 11/1/22 3:35 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/31/22 12:11 PM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 93 Join Date: 2/28/15 Recent Posts
"When someone is physically injured there is still a need for gentle exercise for the body to heal and recover, but there is also a risk that too much exercise will cause more injury. So the real trick is to find a physical therapist who can provide exercises that help heal the body without retraumatizing it."
Shargrol
​​​​​​​
Yes I think gentle is the way to go. I had a similar experience due to various factors, I'm not sure what caused it, this chaotic world. I been verry sensitive to what covid, climate crisis and war have done. Give up the news about such things, renunciate! Live easy and quiet.

In January I got sleeping problems followed by some psychotic nights. So painfull. I got traumatized from this also, and I think some past traumas got triggered, a bit difficult to distinguish. 3 months later I gave up and started with propiomazin (sleeping- and antipsychotic pills). I'm still using the pills, but I think I'm recovering. I don't know how it would be without the pills.

However this period have been verry challenging and turbulent. I have developed even though I had these difficulties. I had a period with easy access to samadhi, then ever before, recently. I had deep challenges in morality so I now know better how to live. I had insight. Meditation (Anapanasati), Painting/drawing (basically mindfulness), brahma viharas, exercise, healthy food helped me.

I think you need to have faith in what you choose to do about it! And a good balance of courage and careful investigation. It can seem so devastating, but as we go on it loosen up. Just be in this moment! There is nowhere else to go.
Matt Jon Rousseau, modified 1 Year ago at 1/8/23 4:54 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/31/22 2:14 PM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 203 Join Date: 5/1/22 Recent Posts
I am in the fence with this one. I am not enlightened  and I cannot achieve  a hard jhana. I had been diagnosed  with depression and anxiety years ago and quite severely.  I somewhat think vipassana increases the depression and anxiety.  Makes everything look hopeless makes me feel so selfish . To  be honest I have almost every mark of being at the 3 characteristics stage. I am wondering if my brain isn't wired to be mindfull enough to to reach the AP.    TAKE REFUGE IN THE BUDDHA  THE SANGA AND THE DARHMA.   You guys are my sangha . I will keep working and be greafull for the good days 
thumbnail
Jonas E, modified 1 Year ago at 11/1/22 3:38 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 11/1/22 3:38 AM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 93 Join Date: 2/28/15 Recent Posts
Yes, the results of vipassana can be diificult to map. Some day it just happens and we get on to the next level.

Doubt is a bastard
Brandon Michael Rohe, modified 1 Year ago at 11/5/22 7:11 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 11/5/22 7:09 PM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 17 Join Date: 6/1/21 Recent Posts
I'm going to rephrase your question a bit to see if it helps to see it from a different perspective.

​​​​​​​"Should the people most predisposed to experience suffering regardless of life circumstances undergo the path to exit suffering?"

If we phrase the question in this way, I think it can seem pretty obvious that meditation and moreso Buddhist practice is a good idea, generally speaking, for people with mental illness. The catch to this is that for us people with significant mental illness, there might be more than usual that needs to be worked through or a larger obstacle that needs to be overcome than for a neurotypical individual. There will almost surely be some extra bumps in the road for those who have more innate challenge on their individual path to exit suffering. As long as this is understood from the beginning, I don't think that meditation will be bad for someone with mental illness IF they stick to the process until it is completed

A second point that I'd like to add is that this question is somewhat irrelevant if you are already second path. Once you hit first path, you've hit a point of no return so to speak. You're going to be exposed, whether gradually or overwhelmingly all at once, to further spiritual development. Stopping meditation at that point for any long period of time will likely only hurt rather than help. On the other hand, stopping meditation in the short term can be a very good idea if you are noticing a correlation between meditation and worsened mental health outcomes. Usually you should be fine to resume meditation once you're back to a more normal state for a couple weeks.

I've had to take plenty of short breaks due to meditation triggering things with my mental health, namely manic episodes.

I say all of this having been diagnosed (accurately) with bipolar disorder type 1 with psychotic features, ADHD, and generalized anxiety disorder. After 9 years of meditation and spiritual work, my symptoms have been reduced by about 90-95%. Frank Yang has stated similar things in relation to his bipolar disorder. I can't imagine myself being mentally healthier without meditation or spiritual work long term.
Thor Jackson, modified 1 Year ago at 11/7/22 12:24 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 11/7/22 12:24 PM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 5 Join Date: 11/7/22 Recent Posts
Being "mentally ill" is a false construct made by "professional" doctors. The majority of people are mentallly ill, due to the conditioning of society, including the so called psychologists. Their idea of "wellness" is conformity to societal standards, which is far from sane. 
Anything that diviates from living a healthy life, focused on improvement of the self and the community, should be considered "mentally ill". Which pretty much covers EVERYTHING our modern society does, considering the "laws" of the few that run it all. 
Society wants to label you all ill, so it can gaslite you and sell you drugs.

Everyone feels insecure or doubtfull about their mental state at one point or another. That is part of being in the human form. Yes, some people act insane to the extream, but that is a result of their conditioning, not their essental nature. 
Many spiritual experiences could and would be considered "psychoic events" by mainstream doctors. They fear what they don't understand. 

‘common or garden’ anxiety/depression is nothing more than feeling helpless, as MOST people do. I don't believe you reached "second path", or even first path, let alone understanding of "mind and body", being the first "lesson" experienced during deep one pointed concentration. 

As far as "covid" goes, It never existed. The entire covid event was/is a complete scam. It was nothing more than the normal yearly flu, ( government recordes show that the normal flu dissapeared for the enitre time, and "covid" deaths were the same number as the flu beforehand) rebranded to scare the living shit out of everyone and force them to take a deadly, seletive, jab. It was also designed to ruin all small to medium businesses. Millions of people have died already, and billions are going to die because of the jab. It is a DEPOPULATION tool. A new world war is going to cover that up and reinforce it.

I suggest people DONT USE psychiatric medicine and I also suggest you stop pretending to be in a situation you are not. Because I don't belive your post is real. 
thumbnail
เอียน พิชฟอร์ด, modified 1 Year ago at 11/9/22 8:39 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 11/9/22 8:20 AM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 40 Join Date: 2/10/20 Recent Posts
I thought this would be an interesting topic to feed through the new Consensus app:

Does meditation exacerbate psychitaric disorders?

Tweak according to your interests. 
thumbnail
Jim Smith, modified 1 Year ago at 4/3/23 1:28 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/2/23 10:56 PM

RE: Meditation and mental illness

Posts: 1767 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
Robin Woods
Re: the warning at the start of MCTB, I just wondered if any consensus had formed on here re: whether the mentally ill should meditate. 

If someone has ever experienced psychosis, I assume it could be quite risky and the individual would probably be confined to playing out their misery within the confines of the Western healthcare system. 

But what of more ‘common or garden’ anxiety/depression. Despite Daniel’s warning, I remember being very impressed on the old KFD site by the number of people who claimed that Pragmatic Dharma had effectively cured their anxiety/depression. So this was probably principally what influenced me to just go for it and take the risk…

It definitely worked (at first anyway) and after second path I was able to re-engage with and enjoy life again. 

Until COVID. To my considerable and eternal shame/embarrassment- I think I fundamentally misunderstood/perceived ‘non-duality. Because I no longer felt like a separate, secure entity encased in skin I think it massively increased my anxiety because I felt like the the contagion was already inside ‘me’ and I had a massive mental and physical breakdown. 

I now find myself out of work and severely depressed/anxious. ALL psychiatric medication has stopped working for me. 
​​​​​​​
I guess I feel my last chance would be to try and note my way out of it? I don’t even see what I have to loose or how anything could get any worse? 


I think one would have to be very careful and proceed slowly with out overdoing it. There could be big differences between individuals biologically and environmentally so what works for one might not work for another. The guidance of a doctor familiar with meditation might be helpful if the doctor was competent - but I'm not sure how to judge that beforehand.
​​​​​​​
Also I'm not sure what you have already experienced, maybe it was what you tried and it stopped working. But sometimes slight differences in how you do the practice can make a difference below I give very specific instructions, particularly what parts not to skip.

It is possible to cultivate a quiet contented pleasant mind that observes other emotions coming and going. In that situation depression or anxiety or anger, or craving or aversion seems more like a physical sensation than "reality". Emotional pain (and physical pain) is much easier to bear in that case. (Physical pain is much easier to bear without the mental anguish that often accompanies it.) A person might feel more like doing things rather than obsessing over how they feel.

Ideally one would learn how to do this when things are going well before having to use it during hard times. But one way to do this is with these relaxing meditations:

https://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2020/08/preparing-for-meditation-with.html

The exercises should allow you to get to a point where you feel like you are floating and you body is numb or tingling or vibrating - (different words meant to describe the same thing). (Don't skip the physical part it is necessary to reach the desired end point - moving each part of the body several times to release muscle tension only takes a few minutes.) Maintain the floating/tingling state for a few minutes, then sit up, look around, and notice your mood. If you feel a quiet contented peaceful state you can stabilize it by meditating on the breath whlie noticing the pleasant mood. Don't push it into intense bliss, just keep it going quietly, pleasantly, notice other emotions coming and going or existing if they are there to stay - without disturbing the pleasant contented quiet mood. Don't skip the relaxation meditations the sitting meditation won't have the same effect alone. After a session of practice try to go about daily activities in calm mindful way so as not to distract you while you continue to notice the pleasant mood. You can do this practice several times a day - with time you will get better at it and be able to maintain it longer.

Diet and exercise also influence the effect. Sugary foods can interfere, but there can be withdrawl effects too, and exercise can be helpful or harmful  depending on a lot of factors that might be too individual to try to explain here.

(Updated version here: https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/25247412)

Breadcrumb