Depression might actually be a good thing

According to Kevin Loria in the Business Insider Thursday 16 February 2017 Depression may be our brain’s way of telling us to stop and solve a problem

There is a theory that suggests that rather than being a problem depression might be a specific behavioural strategy that we have evolved as a biological adaptation that serves a purpose. As Matthew Hutson explains in a Nautilus feature on the potential evolutionary roots of depression and suicidal behaviour , that the purpose of depressions might be to make us…

…stop, understand, and deal with an important problem.

Figures for the USA, which are probably reflected in Europe, suggest that at any given time, about 5% of people report symptoms of moderate or severe depression. Major depressive disorder is now so common that at some point in life, one in six people will suffer from it.

So why does such a debilitating condition strike so many people?

The traditional understanding is that depression is just a breakdown in the normally working of the brain. This is seen as a chemical imbalance that is treated by chemical medication designed to balance chemistry, change mood and create shifts in behaviours.

Could depression have developed to help us?

Evolutionary psychologist Paul Andrews and psychiatrist J. Anderson Thomson first elaborated on this idea, called the “analytical rumination hypothesis,” in an article published in Psychological Review in 2009.

Their idea is that what we think of as a disorder is actually a way for our brains to analyse and dwell on a problem in the hopes of coming up with a way to deal with it. The researchers suggest it’s possible that a difficult or complex problem triggers a “depressive” reaction in some people that sends them into a sort of analytical mode.

This intrigues me greatly because in the Ayurevedic model, my original training, depression was seen as a gift, as a way of our system telling us that something was wrong and giving us the chance to sort it out. This would explain the increased rumination that arises in depressive episodes. Along side this is an increase in dream sleep. The two phases of sleep are deep sleep (NREM) and dream sleep (REM). It is assumed that deep sleep is the resting phase concerned with repair of the body and dream sleep is an active phase concerned with processing experience and emotion. In depression the dream sleep eats into the deep sleep so that despite sleeping for long periods of time the person does not experience rest and may become progressively more tired.

The concept that depression might be an evolutionary adaptation rather than a mental disorder is not the main consensus of the mental health community. In reality it cannot be true for all depression. It would be true for those who suffered with reactive depression in response to a trauma or traumatic stimulus. Even so this could still account for around 80% of depressive episodes.

The problem is that in most cases depression is not the cause it is the symptomatic response to the cause. In western medicine we tend to treat the symptom and pay little or no attention to the cause.

It could be that if we accepted depression as a gift and took the opportunity to undertake a self-audit to enable us to get our lives back on track. Instead we treat depression negatively as a problem and medicate the symptoms and fail to deal with the cause. It would make sense that if alongside medication we engaged in mindful therapy so we could speed up treatment and help to dissolve depressive episodes.

MBCT
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is designed to deal with and overcome issues of reactive or repetitive depression. MBCT, is recommended by the United Kingdom’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) for the prevention of recurrent and reactive depression and has also been shown to be effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety.

Take care and be happy

Sean x

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