Psycho-Babble Psychology Thread 332029

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the evolutionary role of depression

Posted by octopusprime on April 3, 2004, at 8:17:56

i heard a very interesting radio program on depression today. an evolutionary biologist claimed that depression may have an adaptive role. for example, depression makes us change social situations, social networks, and job situations that cause us pain.

you can see the program summary here:
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/mind/stories/s1077027.htm

and you can listen to the radio program until thursday. the link is here:
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/mind/

i am wondering what you think of this? (and i hope this is the right place to post this discussion). i found the radio program fascinating, and some things did resonate with me.

 

Re: the evolutionary role of depression octopusprime

Posted by fallsfall on April 3, 2004, at 13:30:33

In reply to the evolutionary role of depression, posted by octopusprime on April 3, 2004, at 8:17:56

Very interesting.

I believe in the function of depression as a catalyst for change. I guess that sometimes it works effectively and people make changes they need and then they feel better. I'm wondering if in my case I was unable to make the changes that I needed to make, and so it spiraled down to a point where now I have to make changes to get rid of my "depression lifestyle" before I can start looking at the changes that were initially needed.

I also do believe that there is a physical (hereditary) component that makes certain people more susceptable to depression. Some people get depressed when things are going well for them, some only get depressed under the most awful circumstances. Why would the depressive genes not be selected out? In some cases, reacting strongly to situations is adaptive. In other cases, the depression doesn't show until people have already had children (my dad's only Manic episode was when he was 50, I didn't show clinical signs of depression until I was 38 and had already had 3 children).

In keeping with these ideas, I think that it is unwise to treat depression only with medication (because I think that there IS something in the person's environment that needs to be changed). So I am a strong advocate of therapy. I do believe, however, that medications are required in some cases (including mine) so that the person can function well enough to benefit from the therapy in a reasonable period of time.

Thanks for pointing out a very interesting program!

 

Re: the evolutionary role of depression

Posted by noa on April 3, 2004, at 19:34:40

In reply to Re: the evolutionary role of depression octopusprime, posted by fallsfall on April 3, 2004, at 13:30:33

I don't have speakers on computer so I'll wait for the transcripts to come out on Thursday. I bookmarked some of the article links, too.

I have thought for a long time that depression has to have some adaptive evolutionary purposes. Like the withdrawal aspects of depression. I'm sure that withdrawing into oneself and not being agressive is an adaptive feature in certain situations.

 

Re: the evolutionary role of depression octopusprime

Posted by Fallen4myT on April 3, 2004, at 19:52:04

In reply to the evolutionary role of depression, posted by octopusprime on April 3, 2004, at 8:17:56

I think its is very valid and PERSONALLY I think a lot...NOT ALL people on AD's are on them and do not need them..I think SOME depression is normal but when debilitating then meds, therapy and so on are needed mainly because as a society we are slack and do not change things we as well as our governmemts JUST *debate* them to death...I also think in SOME cases it is due to chemical reasons.

 

Re: the evolutionary role of depression

Posted by skeptic on April 3, 2004, at 21:46:19

In reply to the evolutionary role of depression, posted by octopusprime on April 3, 2004, at 8:17:56

I listened to the radio program that octopusprime directed us to and I found it very fascinating.

As a fairly recent graduate of one of this nation's top research-based academic institutions, what the guests on this program were saying fit more with what I was taught in school than the view that seems to have rapidly permeated our entire society---thanks, IMHO, primarily to fantastic marketing strategies employed by the drug companies.

I was taught about the importance of variability in temperament and personality to the survival of the species (which, by the way, Kay Jamison still emphasizes). I was taught about emotions as complex adaptive programs needed to solve the very complex problems of social life. I was taught that many "maladaptive" traits may have been advantageous in the unique niches in which our individual ancestors may have lived. I was taught that our modern lives are so vastly different from that of early humans, who lived in close-knit communities where they were surrounded by family and friends, where the choices (e.g. lifestyle, mating, making a living) were not quite as vast, and in which true physical isolation was hard to come by.

I believe that people need meaning in their lives, and I think our highly competitive, work-centered society has made it difficult for many of us to find this meaning.

That said, I don't mean to minimize human suffering. From personal experience, I can attest that severe depression can be very very painful. I can also attest that medication can be beneficial. But I also think that our society needs to start allowing for more flexible work and school environments and I think we each need to remind ourselves (and perhaps our family members) that there is no "normal" in human behavior.

 

Re: the evolutionary role of depression

Posted by joslynn on April 6, 2004, at 16:02:09

In reply to Re: the evolutionary role of depression, posted by skeptic on April 3, 2004, at 21:46:19

I think there is something very, very wrong with the way we live and work today. We are more productive than ever, yet we work longer hours than ever. Generic landscapes and suburban sprawl threaten to take over the soul of communities. People plug into TV and the internet (and I'm in the latter category) because so many people just want to talk about reality TV, not reality. Something is wrong and maybe people with a tendency towards depression are simply highly attunded barometers, sensing society's problems before others do.

I tried to get some soul back in my life thru 12 step groups and church. That has worked well, but before that, my depression reflected work stress and social isolation, friends casting off friends when they move into life's next phase. I know my new friends won't do that to me, but I had to seek people out like that. I wonder if there was a time when it was natural for people to connect deeply, without having to search so hard for it.

 

Re: the evolutionary role of depression

Posted by joslynn on April 6, 2004, at 16:04:08

In reply to Re: the evolutionary role of depression, posted by joslynn on April 6, 2004, at 16:02:09

I also had very physical symptoms too, early morning awakening etc., so I don't think it's just societal. But there is something wrong with a 10-hr day being normal. The therapists are seeing the first signs.

 

Re: the evolutionary role of depression

Posted by skeptic on April 7, 2004, at 22:10:30

In reply to Re: the evolutionary role of depression, posted by joslynn on April 6, 2004, at 16:02:09

> Something is wrong and maybe people with a tendency towards depression are simply highly attunded barometers, sensing society's problems before others do.

There is something called the hyperthymic temperament. This high-energy temperament has often been associated with bipolar disorder, or 'manic depression,' and, if I'm not mistaken, it is often used to describe people who are very involved in pursuing social causes. (For this reason, this temperament tends to be over-represented in government agencies, the
non-profit sector, and perhaps even certain segments of the legal profession.)

Unfortunately (and this is where the concept of evolution working through compromise comes in), there seems to be an inverse relationship between the ability to maintain close friendships (long-term relationships, included) and the ability to spend one's energy trying to effect change in the world, i.e. through pursuit of social causes.

I'm still trying to figure out just where the balance should be. Sometimes I find I want to spend more time connecting with individual people. And then at other times I would rather find a forum to express my strong feelings on various social issues. (I think that the latter desire can become problematic because one cannot always find the appropriate forum in which to express these feelings.)

If my scientific knowledge serves me correctly, I believe that these fluctuations in desire often coincide with the 'highs' and 'lows' of what psychiatrists refer to as 'manic depression'--and this is where psychiatry (and, perhaps, science in general) needs to be careful about where and how to draw the line between "normal" and "illness"---especially as research into the ability to manipulate the brain through neuropsychopharmacology continues.

Kay Jamison discusses this concern in her book, "An Unquiet Mind," and there is also a book that I've been meaning to read (and that others on this site may find of interest) by Francis Fukuyama, a professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. It's called "Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution." From the book reviews that I've read (and from a transcript of a lecture of his that I found online), he is quite concerned about the effects of psychiatric drugs on society, and even humanity as a whole.

 

Re: the evolutionary role of depression skeptic

Posted by noa on April 8, 2004, at 9:12:32

In reply to Re: the evolutionary role of depression, posted by skeptic on April 7, 2004, at 22:10:30

What you wrote was interesting--the idea of "hyperthymic" temperament. It makes me think about what our world would be like without people of different temperaments. The question, of course, is where is the line between variation on a temperament continuum and what we might consider to be an illness--probably a question impossible to answer.

I think on a personal level, staying mindful of a balance is what is important, monitoring how functional the temperament is for you, and having a way to cope with it if it crosses that line.

I hope you find an outlet for the energy you have. I'm sure there is one for you where you can feel like you are making a positive contribution.

 

Re: double double quotes skeptic

Posted by Dr. Bob on April 8, 2004, at 18:53:05

In reply to Re: the evolutionary role of depression, posted by skeptic on April 7, 2004, at 22:10:30

> Kay Jamison discusses this concern in her book, "An Unquiet Mind," and there is also a book that I've been meaning to read (and that others on this site may find of interest) by Francis Fukuyama, a professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. It's called "Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution."

I'd just like to plug the double double quotes feature at this site:

http://www.dr-bob.org/babble/faq.html#amazon

The first time anyone refers to a book without using this option, I post this to try to make sure he or she at least knows about it. It's just an option, though, and doesn't *have* to be used. If people *choose* not to use it, I'd be interested why not, but I'd like that redirected to Psycho-Babble Administration:

http://www.dr-bob.org/babble/admin/20020918/msgs/7717.html

Thanks!

Bob

 

Re: the evolutionary role of depression noa

Posted by skeptic on April 9, 2004, at 17:28:28

In reply to Re: the evolutionary role of depression skeptic, posted by noa on April 8, 2004, at 9:12:32

I very much agree with you that where to draw the line between variation on a temperament continuum and what might be called "illness" is impossible to answer and, also, as you point out, very personal.

My fear is that today's generation of teenagers is growing up hyper-aware of their moods and emotions before they even get a chance to experiment with their personalities and see what roles and/or niches they may fit into, before they learn that bad habits CAN be changed, and, perhaps most importantly, before their brains have fully developed.

At least this is the sense I get from articles that I have read, e.g. in Time Magazine, and things that I have heard from people in this age group.


> What you wrote was interesting--the idea of "hyperthymic" temperament. It makes me think about what our world would be like without people of different temperaments. The question, of course, is where is the line between variation on a temperament continuum and what we might consider to be an illness--probably a question impossible to answer.
>
> I think on a personal level, staying mindful of a balance is what is important, monitoring how functional the temperament is for you, and having a way to cope with it if it crosses that line.
>
> I hope you find an outlet for the energy you have. I'm sure there is one for you where you can feel like you are making a positive contribution.


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