Thursday, March 04, 2010

Does Depression Have Benefits?


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Given the prevalence of and genetic predisposition for depression, the New York Times examines the possible evolutionary advantages or benefits associated with this seemingly destructive condition. It's a long article, but incredibly fascinating.

Depression's Upside

The persistence of this affliction — and the fact that it seemed to be heritable — posed a serious challenge to Darwin’s new evolutionary theory. If depression was a disorder, then evolution had made a tragic mistake, allowing an illness that impedes reproduction — it leads people to stop having sex and consider suicide — to spread throughout the population. For some unknown reason, the modern human mind is tilted toward sadness and, as we’ve now come to think, needs drugs to rescue itself.

The alternative, of course, is that depression has a secret purpose and our medical interventions are making a bad situation even worse. Like a fever that helps the immune system fight off infection — increased body temperature sends white blood cells into overdrive — depression might be an unpleasant yet adaptive response to affliction.

While I think it's potentially dangerous to romanticize depression as something that helps intelligent people think deep thoughts, I also think there is something to the idea that there are evolutionary advantages associated with it. Otherwise, evolutionary biology makes no sense.

For other perspectives on the article, please check out this PsychCentral response: The Myth of Depression's Upside and Therese Borchard's PsychCentral article: Depression's Upside: Let's Rethink That.

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DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site constitutes medical or legal advice. I am a patient who is engaged and educated and enjoys sharing my experiences and news about migraines, pain and depression. Please consult your own health care providers for advice on your unique situation.