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Can Depression Be A Positive Thing?

There has been a growing controversy both about the effectiveness of anti-depressants — that half the people taking placebos do just as well – as well as concern about biological effects, such as increasing the risk of relapse, causation of brain neuron deterioration, bone mineral loss, etc. A different spin in the controversy comes from an evolutionary psychology perspective, some researchers and clinical psychologists believe that maybe there is something useful about depression after all.

What prompts their questioning is the prevalence of depression – 20-30% of the population compared to single digits for other mental illnesses – why is this so different? They make the analogy to fevers where the fever process is the body’s way of dealing with infection, and the use of drugs to kill the fever actually weakens the body’s homeostatic functioning. Maybe depression too has some beneficial effect after all. When they look at the biological impact of depression they discover some interesting ideas:

Depression leads to more analytical thinking.
What they found is that the way we think about problems actually changes with depression. We are able to break down complex problems into smaller components. Depressed people actually do better on certain tests than those who are not. We also do a better job solving social problems when depressed.
Depression makes us more focused.
The deep seeded thoughts – the circling around the same thoughts with seemingly little control – is considered one of the negative symptoms of depression and what medications try to target. There is only some much we can actually hold in our minds at any one time. Depression helps keep us from being distracted by other issues and instead pushes the most important to the for front. So we think, think, think, analyze, analyze, analyze until we can put what is most bothering us to rest. If we try to avoid the negative thoughts through use of drugs or alcohol, they in fact last longer.
Physical symptoms keep us on target.
The desire to be alone, the decrease in libido, the lack of energy, sleeplessness actually reinforce the focus. Our bodies are actually joining forces with our minds to keep us from moving forward and dealing with our problems, keeping us from being lured away by additional distractions.
The take-away from this is that they are reluctant to immediately try and kill symptoms with medication. While a small percentage of the population are struggling with a biologically rooted disorder, for a majority of us our depression is most often situational – there is something we need to pay attention to and fix in our lives and relationships. So, they say, look at what there is to fix. Doing therapy to talk through your thoughts, or doing expressive writing helps work with overthinking and speeds up the recovery process. Rather than mentally or pharmaceutically running away from problems, slow down and give yourself the time to sort it out.

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