Depression = a good thing?

August 29, 2009 at 9:31 am (ask gynomite, research, science) (, , , , , )

As some of you know, I’m kinda fascinated with the benefits of emotional problems, from small things like choosing the wrong romantic partners over and over to big things, like schizophrenia.  These benefits are real (if not overshadowed by their huge costs), because not only have some of the greatest works of art been created by people in the throes of mania or depression, but evolutionarily, mental illness has continued to survive natural selection.  Why?

Why would it ever be helpful to have hallucinations, or not sleep, or feel so sad that you cannot work?

Welp, people are working on that right now.

This amazing article in Scientific American is all about the benefits of depression.  Now, if you think you’re depressed and you want to read about that, go here, but if you’ve ever been depressed and just hated yourself for how useless and bleak it feels, maybe it’s time to utilize some of the gifts that depression is trying to give you.  Some studies are suggesting that evolutionarily, in times of extreme stress, it may actually be more helpful to stop focusing on day to day activities and instead think constantly about the thing causing you stress.  Here:

Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.

The desire for social isolation, for instance, helps the depressed person avoid situations that would require thinking about other things. Similarly, the inability to derive pleasure from sex or other activities prevents the depressed person from engaging in activities that could distract him or her from the problem. Even the loss of appetite often seen in depression could be viewed as promoting analysis because chewing and other oral activity interferes with the brain’s ability to process information.

Perhaps the solution to depression isn’t making people feel falsely ok with medication, but instead, helping reduce their stress level and making them feel more effective about their ruminations.  That way they’re solving their own problems, and depression is helping.

Wild stuff.  Forgive me for psychology nerding out on you.

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