The word ‘depression’ can refer to many different states of mind, ranging from understandable sadness to life-threatening mental illness. Sometimes depression arises in reaction to adverse life events, especially those which involve some kind of loss. Sometimes it is due to a physical disorder – for example underactive thyroid, Parkinson’s disease, the unwanted effects of prescribed medication – impacting on the function of the brain. Sometimes depression develops for no apparent reason, and this form often has some genetic basis.
For mild depressive states, Bach flower remedies can work well on their own. In more severe cases it is always advisable to seek professional diagnosis and care, but the remedies can still be helpful as an adjunct to other forms of treatment and support. There is no one single flower for depression, but several different ones which could help to relieve various forms of the condition, for example:
Gentian for those who feel disappointed or disheartened in response to a setback, or who tend to have a pessimistic outlook on life in general. This remedy helps to restore faith, hope and certainty.
Gorse for those who, perhaps after a prolonged experience of illness or difficult circumstances, have abandoned all hope of improvement.
Mustard for the type of depression which comes and goes for no apparent reason and is often described as like a ‘black cloud’.
Sweet chestnut is the remedy for heartache, anguish and despair.
Other remedies might also be helpful for associated problems, for example Elm if there is a sense of being overburdened with responsibilities, Pine if there are exaggerated feelings of guilt and self-blame, or Willow for those who cast themselves as victims and harbour resentment and self-pity.
Up to six remedies can be combined in the same course of treatment. Please visit the Bach Centre website for details of the system and how it is used.
It’s early summer here in New Zealand, and the kitten season is in full swing. The Auckland SPCA, where I work as a volunteer, is in dire need of both foster homes and ‘forever’ homes for the hundreds of beautiful cats and kittens recently brought into the Animal Village.
My own three cats, and the dog which I walk every week, were all ‘rescue’ cases of one kind or another who had a bad start in life but have flourished since receiving proper care. Like all the companion animals I have known over the years, each one has a uniquely loveable personality.
This is the second of two posts which include short extracts from my book Persons not Diseases. The first one was called The healing power of music, in which I pointed out that not everyone likes, or can appreciate, music. I know that the same is true with regard to animals, and there can be a dark side to human-animal relationships which causes suffering on both sides. But I do believe that the positive qualities of animals far outweigh any negative ones and that, besides all the joy they can bring, they have remarkable healing powers.
Here is the book extract:
“Many studies have confirmed the physical and mental health benefits of owning a pet, and the value of animal-assisted therapies such as riding for the disabled and having visiting dogs in hospices and care homes. Some of the benefits are mediated through increased exercise, but others are a direct result of the human-animal bond, which usually represents a form of pure unconditional love free from the complications which so often beset human relationships. Positive interaction with a dog, for example, leads to increased secretion of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin, which has cardioprotective effects. Dog ownership is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, and with a greatly improved prognosis for men who have had a heart attack already, although this may partly reflect the fact that men who choose to keep a dog are fitter to start off with.
“The other side to this is that the death of a pet can be followed by a grief reaction similar to that which follows human bereavement, and in a few cases this can be just as severe, with adverse consequences for mental and physical health.”
To end this post on a happier note: if you are interested in both music and animals you may enjoy the website of Nora the piano cat.
Singing the beautiful Advent music with my choir this month reminds me of all the benefits to health and happiness which music can bring. As a child I disliked having to take music lessons, but when I took up choral singing and playing the piano in later life was pleased to find that I could still remember the basic knowledge unwillingly acquired so many years ago. Although my musical skills remain at a very amateur level I have gained great enjoyment and stimulation from practising them.
A few people, maybe 5% of the population, are unable to produce or respond to music (amusia) and may even hate the sound of it (melophobia); well-known historical figures in this category include Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and Theodore Roosevelt. But for most of us music is one of the pleasures of life, and it also has powerful healing properties. The following is an extract from my latest book Persons not Diseases:
“Research studies have shown that simply listening to music has many positive effects on health – benefits include the relief of pain from many causes, improved sleep, reduced anxiety, enhanced mental development in children, and more rapid recovery of memory following a stroke. Actively singing or playing an instrument, as opposed to passive listening, brings in many other positive factors and professional music therapy, which involves sophisticated techniques adapted for each client, can have still more powerful effects.
“Music works to promote healing in many different ways. At the physical level, appropriately chosen music can help to regulate various aspects of physiology, and encourage formation of new neural connections in the brain. Different sound frequencies have specific effects. The vibration of a cat’s purr, for example, is conducive to bone and tissue repair. Some biofeedback devices work through sound frequencies individually selected to modify the client’s symptoms. The 528 Hz frequency, found in the 6-note Solfeggio scale, has been called the ‘frequency of love’ and some claim it has special healing power, enabling DNA to absorb ultraviolet light and attune the body’s rhythm to that of the cosmos. It is found in many of the old Gregorian chants, and is featured in various modern videos which can be found on YouTube.
“At the emotional level, music is a channel for the expression of feelings which are beyond words, and can enable deep sadness or anger to be released. Many of us have poignant memories associated with particular pieces and therefore the choice of music, and the meaning attached to it, is always specific to the individual concerned. Music has a spiritual element too, and plays an important part in the services and rituals of most religious traditions. Other benefits of music include the social aspects of singing or playing instruments in a group, and the mental exercise of studying music theory. Music, therefore, carries a wide range of potential rewards and must be rated as among the most valuable of all aids to the healthy integration of body, emotions, mind and spirit.”