Bach flowers for depression

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.

Bach flowers for life event stress

Distress about an ‘adverse life event’ is among the most common reasons that people seek help from the Bach flowers. Besides major events such as the loss of a job, a divorce, and the death of a loved person or pet, many other kinds of traumas, disappointments, irritations or deprivations can happen in life.

During my former career as a research psychiatrist I carried out a study about life events in relation to health. This involved following up a sample of women over several years through a series of detailed home interviews. Adverse events were reported much more often than pleasant ones, and the number of events varied greatly between different people. One event often set off a cascade of others and there were usually accompanying long-term difficulties, such as financial problems or unhappy relationships.

This is not the place to discuss that particular study but I would like to mention some personal observations I took from it. These points are not often emphasised in the academic literature, but they may be helpful to people dealing with life event stress themselves.

1. The impact of an event varies a good deal depending on individual personality and circumstances. The same experience, for example being made redundant, might be variously perceived as a loss, a punishment, an insult, a challenge, the hand of fate, or a blessing in disguise. It could give rise to different emotions such as sadness, guilt, resentment, anger, resignation or relief. There is always potential for ‘reframing’ personal attitudes and emotions around an event.

2. Although adverse events usually lead to emotional distress, and sometimes act as the trigger for a mental or physical illness, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and often there are compensations in the longer term. The person who was made redundant might, for example, benefit from a much-need rest before going on to improve his or her skills and presentation and eventually finding a better job.

3. We are responsible for much of what happens in our lives. Although some events such as bereavements and natural disasters do happen independently, they are the minority. Most events do not arise ‘out of the blue’; personal choices and behaviours have usually played some part in the chain of causation. Some also believe in metaphysical aspects, for example that our thoughts and emotions determine our life event experience through the Law of Attraction, or that the Universe presents us with the experiences required to advance our spiritual development.

Here, in alphabetical order, are some suggestions for Bach flowers which can assist coping with stressful life events and difficulties. The statements in quotes are taken from The Encyclopedia of Bach Flower Therapy by Mechthild Scheffer. As always, the choice of remedy or remedies depends on the current emotional state of the individual. Please visit the Bach Centre website for more details.

Chestnut bud ‘from superficiality to experience’: if the same type of adverse event keeps ocuring in your life, this may indicate a failure to learn from past actions.

Gentian ‘from doubt to trust’: if you feel negative and discouraged following a setback, delay or disappointment.

Gorse ‘from giving up to going forth’: if you feel completely hopeless, and can hardly see any point in trying to overcome long-standing difficulties.

Holly ‘from hard-heartedness to generosity’if you feel consumed by hostile feelings such as anger, jealousy or suspicion towards other person(s) whom you hold to blame for what went wrong.

Star of Bethlehem ‘from shock to reorientation’: for shock and grief, for example after an accident or bereavement, even if it happened some time ago.

Sweet chestnut ‘through darkness to light’: if you feel unbearable anguish and have reached the end of your endurance. 

Willow ‘from resenting fate to taking personal responsibility’: when the predominant feelings are those of self-pity and being a victim, Willow can encourage a greater sense of empowerment.

Adverse life events are always upsetting but there is often something to be learned from them. For example, having an accident – especially more than one – might indicate the need to be more patient, to curtail an overload of commitments, to maintain better safety standards for your home or car, to pay more attention to the present moment, or to avoid going too long without food. Or, experiencing a series of relationship breakups might indicate some kind of imbalance in your own psychology.  There are Bach flower remedies to cover some of these issues too, but details would be beyond the scope of this post.

Hope, healing and Bach flower remedies

Hope is ‘a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen’ (New Oxford Dictionary of English). Living through hard times is easier when there is hope for improvement. And, according to Law of Attraction teachers such as Abraham-Hicks, having positive expectations can actually help to create a better future.

Lack of hope – hopelessness – may be a long-standing attitude or personality trait. It may be a symptom of a clinical depression. Or it may seem a logical response to certain situations, for example a chronic or progressive illness.

Hopelessness is often linked to helplessness – passive submission to a miserable fate.

Whatever its origins, hopelessness is bad for health. Large prospective studies have identified chronic hopelessness as a risk factor for developing serious illness such as cancer and heart disease. Other studies have found that, in people already suffering from such medical conditions, a hopeless/helpless attitude predicts worse ‘quality of life’ and shorter survival time. This can be explained partly by direct mind-body relationships, and partly by poor self-care. Hopelessness is a frequent precursor of suicide.

One of the contributions of the palliative care movement has been to show that, even when hope of a cure seems unrealistic, there are always other things to hope for: better control of symptoms, rewarding relationships and activities, a peaceful death and perhaps belief in an afterlife.

Is there such a thing as ‘false hope’? Should someone who has been diagnosed with a progressive illness, but who seems unable to accept the fact, be discouraged from starting a long-term project? Should someone like me, with a 40-year history of migraine attacks, give up spending time and money on new treatments? No right or wrong answers here, but if it is true that our mental attitude helps to shape our personal future, we need to seek a balance between maintaining hope and accepting unpleasant realities.

A great many of the Bach flower remedies can help to promote hope. I will mention two of them here. Gorse is especially suitable for those with chronic ill-health who have come to feel that nothing will ever be better and there is no point in trying any longer. The remedy helps to lift their spirits and encourage them to consider new approaches which may lead to improvements in medical symptoms and in other aspects of life. Sweet Chestnut is indicated in more acute situations and helps those in deep despair to ‘see light at the end of the tunnel’.