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Is depression a benefit in disguise?

AphroditeGoneAwry

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Depression's Evolutionary Roots
Two scientists suggest that depression is not a malfunction, but a mental adaptation that brings certain cognitive advantages


Depression seems to pose an evolutionary paradox. Research in the US and other countries estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of people have met current psychiatric diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder sometime in their lives. But the brain plays crucial roles in promoting survival and reproduction, so the pressures of evolution should have left our brains resistant to such high rates of malfunction. Mental disorders should generally be rare — why isn’t depression?

In an article recently published in Psychological Review, we argue that depression is in fact an adaptation, a state of mind which brings real costs, but also brings real benefits.

One reason to suspect that depression is an adaptation, not a malfunction, comes from research into a molecule in the brain known as the 5HT1A receptor. The 5HT1A receptor binds to serotonin, another brain molecule that is highly implicated in depression and is the target of most current antidepressant medications. Rodents lacking this receptor show fewer depressive symptoms in response to stress, which suggests that it is somehow involved in promoting depression. (Pharmaceutical companies, in fact, are designing the next generation of antidepressant medications to target this receptor.) When scientists have compared the composition of the functional part rat 5HT1A receptor to that of humans, it is 99 percent similar, which suggests that it is so important that natural selection has preserved it. The ability to “turn on” depression would seem to be important, then, not an accident.

This is not to say that depression is not a problem. Depressed people often have trouble performing everyday activities, they can’t concentrate on their work, they tend to socially isolate themselves, they are lethargic, and they often lose the ability to take pleasure from such activities such as eating and sex. Some can plunge into severe, lengthy, and even life-threatening bouts of depression.

So what could be so useful about depression? 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.


Ever since I've known my friend, Becky, she has taken a half dose of antidepressants to get her through her days. For 14 years or so now she has never pursued counseling or tried seriously to change her hectic life in any real way, even though she did try quitting her antidepressants at one point, which didn't last very long. I have watched her struggle and suffer in a typical American mother way; stressed out from work, over-indulging her children, unhappy in her marriage, rewarding herself with unhealthy behaviors; always popping her antidepressant to get her through.

She isn't the only friend I have who takes a daily pill to take the edge off. It is sad fact that most of the women I have hung out with in the past decade, and called friend, have predominantly either been on antidepressants, or been prescribed them by physicians or therapists.

My friend is now abusing alcohol at a faster rate than she did previously, and she has taken on other abusive coping mechanisms, such as overeating. She has verbalized a lot lately about "feeling old" and seems a bit ragged. I can't help but wonder if she had just made some necessary life changes or considered some new ways of being in her world and in her family years ago, and avoided a pharmacological approach out of her fear of "depression" or to help with living her anxious life, she would be far healthier today and looking into her midlife with excitement, not apprehension and ill health.

I am not saying depression should never be treated. But by assuming it is a disease that needs to be cured, and by turning to pills to do so, we are ensuring the viscious cycle be perpetuated.


What do you think? What are your feelings about functioning people being put on 'low dose' antidepressants?
 

Arclight

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Yes to the thread question..
I don't really want to get on the subject of Anti depressants and what I think about them.. I will just say there is more going on there than meets the eye and I will leave it.

But back the question.. Yes I believe short term depression is of incredible benefit. It tells you something isn't right and stimulates change and growth.

Long term depression is not beneficial and is indicative of serious self esteem issues and these people need serious support and help.. But not with chemicals. Paitence,understanding and a gentle approach with genuine sympathy will do more to help than chemically messing with someones brain and body.
 

Salomé

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Meh. Not this again.

I didn't read the whole article but this:

The 5HT1A receptor binds to serotonin, another brain molecule that is highly implicated in depression and is the target of most current antidepressant medications. Rodents lacking this receptor show fewer depressive symptoms in response to stress, which suggests that it is somehow involved in promoting depression. When scientists have compared the composition of the functional part rat 5HT1A receptor to that of humans, it is 99 percent similar, which suggests that it is so important that natural selection has preserved it. The ability to “turn on” depression would seem to be important, then, not an accident.
is piss-poor logic.

I bet those lab rats do a lot of ruminating. They probably wrote the article.
 

Thalassa

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Depression is often a sign that something is wrong. I think lots of people are depressed because they eat like shit, don't exercise, don't get outside enough, are exposed to too much stress, and environmental factors like urban blight and pollution. People are also too pressured now to be "special" and feel like they've failed if they're average, not to mention how isolated people are from one another compared to the past.
 

AphroditeGoneAwry

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^Is it more logical to think that 30-50% of humans have a major disease of the mind that warrants pharmacological treatment?
 

Thalassa

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^Is it more logical to think that 30-50% of humans have a major disease of the mind that warrants pharmacological treatment?

I didn't say anything to suggest that, so I assume you meant Morgan le Fay.
 

Yloh

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Yes to the thread question..
I don't really want to get on the subject of Anti depressants and what I think about them.. I will just say there is more going on there than meets the eye and I will leave it.

But back the question.. Yes I believe short term depression is of incredible benefit. It tells you something isn't right and stimulates change and growth.

Long term depression is not beneficial and is indicative of serious self esteem issues and these people need serious support and help.. But not with chemicals. Paitence,understanding and a gentle approach with genuine sympathy will do more to help than chemically messing with someones brain and body.

I agree. :yes:

It is never good to be depressed, but becoming depressed tells you that you need change. Problem is most people don't know how and/or won't confront what is causing them to become depressed. Instead they turn to the quick solution of pills to help them out. There are more complicated cases where a pill might be needed, but too many people take the easy way out IMO.
 

Salomé

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^Is it more logical to think that 30-50% of humans have a major disease of the mind that warrants pharmacological treatment?
Dis-ease. Says it all.
To say something must be beneficial because it is common is ungood.
 

cafe

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I think it's beneficial like pain. Pain tells us something is wrong so that we try to remove ourselves from whatever is causing the damage. Anti-depressants can be like a person keeping their hand on a hot stove and popping OxyContin because of the pain. Sometimes, though, a person's pain perception can get messed up or the pain is not something that can be removed, so that is what pain medicine is for, and antidepressants are for the emotional equivalent of that, IMO. And also for for temporary situations in while waiting to be fixed in extreme cases like major emotional trauma.
 

Salomé

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I think it's beneficial like pain. Pain tells us something is wrong so that we try to remove ourselves from whatever is causing the damage. Anti-depressants can be like a person keeping their hand on a hot stove and popping OxyContin because of the pain. Sometimes, though, a person's pain perception can get messed up or the pain is not something that can be removed, so that is what pain medicine is for, and antidepressants are for the emotional equivalent of that, IMO. And also for for temporary situations in while waiting to be fixed in extreme cases like major emotional trauma.
Yes. Pain is adaptive because a failure to feel pain could result in serious injury and/or death. I don't see how depression is adaptive in this way and haven't yet read anything to convince me otherwise. And if someone is in a lot of pain, telling them it's for their own good because evolution planned it that way is pretty callous, IMO.
 

cafe

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Yes. Pain is adaptive because a failure to feel pain could result in serious injury and/or death. I don't see how depression is adaptive in this way and haven't yet read anything to convince me otherwise. And if someone is in a lot of pain, telling them it's for their own good because evolution planned it that way is pretty callous, IMO.
It can be a warning sign that they need to do something different, just like pain is.
 

Salomé

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It can be a warning sign that they need to do something different, just like pain is.
It can be. But just as pain has many causes: trauma, infection, chronic disease, childbirth etc, so does depression. And almost all pain management involves analgesics, not ruminating about how much pain you're in. That's just masochism.
 

cafe

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It can be. But just as pain has many causes: trauma, infection, chronic disease, childbirth etc, so does depression. And almost all pain management involves analgesics, not ruminating about how much pain you're in. That's just masochism.
I don't think anyone has recommended anything of the kind. It's not about ruminating about how much pain you're in, it's about attempting to determine if there is a cause and if maybe there is something you can do about your situation. Sometimes the only thing you can do is treat the pain, but sometimes you can remove the cause of the pain. Analgesics serve an important purpose, but if all you do is pop pain killers without attempting to determine the cause, you're probably not going to get the best results.
 

Laurie

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I've used it for short periods before. I doubt it's actually done anything but I like to think maybe it has. In fact I'm calling my Dr. this week to get some magic pills. Srsly.

Oh, I think clinical depression can be different from situational depression. Not sure which one they are talking about. My magic pills would be for situational and/or hormonal depression.
 

AphroditeGoneAwry

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It can be. But just as pain has many causes: trauma, infection, chronic disease, childbirth etc, so does depression. And almost all pain management involves analgesics, not ruminating about how much pain you're in. That's just masochism.


This doesn't really take into consideration just how much we have learned to avoid pain over our lifetime, because we don't remember how much learning we do in this regard as babies and toddlers. The pain analogy must be kept in context. In fact, it's interesting Cafe brought up the analogy because Edward Hagen does as well, a noted evolutionary psychologist who studies depression in his research.

Ed Hagen: To claim a depression is a part like that, it’s something like vision or motor control or physical pain. It’s a claim that in particular circumstances, experiencing depression would have actually helped you in some way, it would have increased your likelihood of surviving and reproducing. The idea’s very much analogous to thinking that physical pain is not an illness, physical pain is something that actually helps us, it identifies problems that we have to address and circumstances that we have to avoid. Similarly nausea, a very distressing state to be sure, has utility. It’s something that despite it’s very uncomfortable nature helps us and it helps us of course by expelling toxins from the body. But only in those particular circumstances, it would not be helpful obviously to experience nausea all the time but only when you’ve in fact ingested something toxic. So I’m claiming in particular situations depression might actually help you out.

Because pain is so unpleasant, it's likely that once we've experienced its devastating effects, we won't repeat the causal action. Just as once depression is overcome, we likely will take care to rework our lives to avoid the same situations that caused it. However, it's easy to see that if we don't enter the 'rumination' period, and take meds to avoid depression, we might not get uncomfortable enough to consider making changes to avoid it, which actually in the end can create more problems.


Furthermore, to say something common is detrimental without exploring it fully, is ungood.
 

miss fortune

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Oh, I think clinical depression can be different from situational depression. Not sure which one they are talking about.

true... I can see how situational depression can be adaptive, but I can't see how clinical depression could be an adaptive mechanism... or for that matter bipolar depression :shock:

Either of the later seems like evolution really f%^&ed up :doh:
 

Salomé

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I don't think anyone has recommended anything of the kind. It's not about ruminating about how much pain you're in, it's about attempting to determine if there is a cause and if maybe there is something you can do about your situation. Sometimes the only thing you can do is treat the pain, but sometimes you can remove the cause of the pain. Analgesics serve an important purpose, but if all you do is pop pain killers without attempting to determine the cause, you're probably not going to get the best results.
That's exactly what the article is proposing: Depression is "adaptive" and not an illness to be medicated away. There seems to be some confusion between introspection and true depression. Feeling blue because you are experiencing problems of one kind or another isn't depression, it's just life. It doesn't become a mood disorder unless it is disproportionate to circumstances. Anyone who has been depressed will tell you that the one thing it doesn't do is help you to think more clearly. How can this be an adaptive response to assist problem-solving?
I do agree that medication is over-prescribed and should be a last resort. And that by making an intolerable situation tolerable, it is an ineffective sticky plaster. I just don't buy the "adaptive" argument.
aphrodite-gone-awry said:
Because pain is so unpleasant, it's likely that once we've experienced its devastating effects, we won't repeat the causal action. Just as once depression is overcome, we likely will take care to rework our lives to avoid the same situations that caused it. However, it's easy to see that if we don't enter the 'rumination' period, and take meds to avoid depression, we might not get uncomfortable enough to consider making changes to avoid it, which actually in the end can create more problems.
This is not how depression works. Long term, untreated depression actually damages the brain making further episodes both more likely and more devastating. Irrespective of a change in circumstances.
 

sLiPpY

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Depression is there to tell us something in our life either sucks or is out of balance.

I really wish the "Mental Dis-ease" industry would more so focus on teaching people steps to take toward "Mental Health."

All those pills folks elect to take eventually end of in the water supply. So for those on city water, I highly recommend a filtration system.
 
A

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^ooh, that means my fish are on prozac.
827516u0bwr1xrik.gif


EDIT:
that's the first common drug (related to this topic) that comes to mind. The water supply probably contains much worse though.
 
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