Exploring the experiences of depression within Krishna consciousness devotees: an interpretative phenomenological analysis

Chauhan, Reena (2022) Exploring the experiences of depression within Krishna consciousness devotees: an interpretative phenomenological analysis. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


Depression is a widespread difficulty seemingly increasing around the world. With the prevalence of this concern having grown in the past few years in the UK and other areas (Lewandowski et al, 2016), researchers have dedicated their time and resources in trying to uncover solutions and prevention methods, if not management strategies to better help one work through their depressive experiences. Research has since steered away from focusing on medicinal practices to manage depression better and instead have turned their focus to alternative forms of management such as holistic and traditional forms of therapy. With some positive statistics indicating the effectiveness of such practices, depression has since progressively received attention in relation to spirituality and religion, a growing area of research in Counselling Psychology (CoP), particularly examining its use as a protective measure for depression. A new religious movement known as Krishna Consciousness (KC) has lately become a topic of interest with research indicating a large presence of depression alongside other mental health difficulties in this growing movement. Investigations have consistently explored follower’s mental states due to their uncommon lifestyle displays and perspectives.

Despite the movement’s philosophy of ‘chant and be happy;’ research has pointed to a prevalence of numerous mental health difficulties in followers of KC. Indeed, focal studies have indicated a presence of delusional ideations within followers (Richardson, 1995), whilst developed research and contemporary online forums have pointed to a large presence of depression within this community (Wright, 1991). One key quantitative study even boldly labelled devotees of KC as depressive personalities (Magaro et al, 1985) though were unable to answer, what, why or even how followers understood and interacted with their depression. As such, qualitative research investigating depression within this group remains non-existent, whereby exploring such depressive experiences could uncover potential susceptibility factors, triggers and insight into these unusual patterns.

Methodology & results:
Seven semi-structured interviews were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) whereby ten subordinate themes emerged which were then subcategorised into three superordinate themes. This provides one of many understandings of devotee’s depressive experiences. The themes which emerged were: 1) finding opportunity within difficulty – 1a) a process of self-reflection, development and reidentification, 1b) a developed sense of drive, meaning and purpose, 1c) a developed resilience, stability and detachment. 2) Coping mechanisms found within faith – 2a) a normalisation and validation of experiences, 2b) acceptance and commitment (continuance) 2c) spiritual tools and resources, 2d) a complementary process to therapy. 3) Exacerbating and maintaining factors - 3a) cognitive dissonance – a battle between instinctual needs and spiritual expectations/ideals, 3b) a stigma/taboo around therapy and opening up, 3c) a sense of risk to the self.

Conclusions & implications:
The results of this research indicated that devotee’s spiritual identities as ‘the soul’ played a significant role in the understanding, conceptualisation, and management of their depressive experiences. From this stance which drew on KC philosophies, this appeared to negate the depressive experience as being an external experience which could not harm their true internal selves. This lens seemingly exacerbated symptoms of depression through the neglect of self-care and conflicts of cognitive dissonance, but also displayed a reduction of symptoms of depression via the use of positive religious coping. The findings also suggest, devotees indicated conflicts around the management of stigma and deeper fears around seeking help. Implications of findings are discussed in the context of clinical practice

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