Here we are again. It is the end of the summer, winter is on the horizon and as they say,
“it won’t be long and then it will be Christmas”
With the loss of light comes a reduction the available vitamins D in our bodies that direct effects the levels of serotonin in our brains and the a feeling of well being that can so easily lead to low mood, depression and seasonal affective disorder SAD.
According to Kevin Loria depression may be our brain’s way of telling us to stop and solve a problem. There is a theory that suggests that generally rather than being a problem depression might be a specific behavioural strategy that we have evolved over time 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.
At this time of year as we come out of summer and into winter people report symptoms of moderate to severe depression. It is the time of year when the sunlight fades and as the levels of vitamin D start to drop and this reduces the level of serotonin in the brain. We are then into depression season.
Across the board in both the USA and Europe major depressive disorders are now so common that at as many as one in six people will suffer from it during they dark months.
So why does such a debilitating condition strike so many people?
The traditional understanding is that depression is just a breakdown in the normal working of the brain. This is seen as a chemical imbalance that is treated by chemical medication designed to re-balance brain 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 The 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 which then enables them to change behaviours, strategies and attitudes. It allows them to stop long enough to solve the problem.
This intrigues me greatly because in the Ayurvedic model, my original training, depression is also 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 arising in depressive episodes. Along side this in and 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 our experiences and related emotions. 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 that suffer a 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 only 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 that would 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 we could speed up treatment and help to dissolve depressive episodes much quicker. While some people do get referred to cognitive behavioural therapy it is not always an effective way to deal with depression. It is the addition of mindfulness that makes the therapy really effective.
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.
If we can look at the challenges that we face in life as learning opportunities rather than problems then we can to stop long enough to grow and develop. So, perhaps depression is the things that can make us stop long enough to get our life right.
As my resource for this week I am using my thirteen day detox. This is something that I tend to do twice a year in September and March. It gives me the chance to consciously stop, do a self audit and decide just where I am up to and to make any changes or adjustments that seem appropriate.
Take care and be happy and if appropriate have a go at the detox.