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Biological Basis of Depression E-mail

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The goal of this website is to give support to people who are feeling depressed and unhappy with their lives. I am living in Europe and English is not my native language, I wish you will excuse me if I make some grammatical errors. I decided to write in English because I wish to reach as many people as I can around the world.

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Evolutionary roots of mood disorders

Some scientists have suggested that depression should not be considered as a disorder, instead it can be a form of adaptation that helps one to survive in difficult circumstances. This is an interesting thought and as one starts to think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. It goes without saying that depression has many disadvantages: it can severely incapacitate an individual, often making it impossible to perform daily activities. Reduced level of performance can complicate one's life in many ways and hence render one even more depressed. Considering all these disadvantages, what could possibly be "positive" about depression?

A depressed person tends to think intensively about his/her problems and is often unable to think about anything else. This kind of a "highly analytical thinking mode" can in certain circumstances work in one's favor: It can make it possible for one to actually solve the problem that one is facing. A depressed person is usually well aware of the factors that are causing the depression (problems in personal life or at work, health issues etc). In a long run it might serve one's interest to concentrate on solving the issues instead of just allowing the things to continue as they are.

For example, if one is stuck in an unhappy relationship and feels depressed because of it, depression serves as an indicator that all is not well in one's life. One is aware that one's life is not going well and in most cases this realization causes one to try to change one's life, either by going to couple's therapy or by ending the relationship, both options being better than just remaining still without doing anything. So in a way depression can serve as a warning mechanism that all is not well in one's life, in similar fashion as mechanical pain receptors are warning one when all is not well in one's body.

Depression and problem solving

According to several experimental results, depression appears to coordinate numerous physiological processes that help people analyze problems without being distracted (for more details, see the source article link below). According to some researchers, depression could serve as a mechanism that enables individual to concentrate solely on the problem at hand, instead of being distracted. This can explain some of the typical symptoms of depression, such as the desire for social isolation. Social interaction is quite demanding process for the brain, and if the goal is to minimize distracting factors in order to solve a given problem, it makes sense to minimize social activities.

Most people have experienced some level of depression at some point in their lives. If one is having problems in one's life or if one is grieving the loss of a beloved one, it is understandable that one does not want to go out and spend time with friends. The brain needs time to adjust to new situations and the adjustment process occurs faster if there are no distractors around. However, it goes without saying that too much isolation will not benefit a depressed individual. if depression continues for a prolonged period of time and becomes chronic, it will eventually have an adverse effect on one's life.

Depression is more dangerous in modern world

It is possible that in the past the will for isolation served the individual's interest better than it does in modern world. It helped one to cope with negative emotions better and to reach a solution if one spent sue time by oneself. However, in the past people simply did not have the time to isolate themselves for weeks and months and just sit home without doing anything, as many depressed people nowadays are doing. People had to work every day to get food for themselves and for their families. Working did not mean sitting in a office, but instead to often meant physical labour, often outdoors. Physical exercise is known to have a positive effect on mood and hence reduce the level of depression, so in the past people most likely recovered faster than they do today. In modern world, people still have to work for their food, however work no longer means doing something physical, instead it means sitting in an office, and physical immobilization is known to enhance depression.

So to conclude, it can be that in the past depression served the interest of an individual, whereas today it can severely incapacitate one for years or even decades. Same is true for many other evolutionary adaptations, for example our graving for greasy food; in the past it was beneficial to increase body mass whenever it was possible so that one would better survive the touch times when the food was scarce. In today's world, people who live in developed countries seldom have periods when they have no access to food, and yet the evolutionary mechanisms that make people grave for greasy, energy-rich food are still in place, resulting in obesity and related health problems.

Understanding what causes the problem helps one to overcome it. It helps a depressed person to recover if they know that what they are going through is not their "fault" but instead the result of the activation of ancient biological mechanisms that still control our behavior today.

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To read more, please see sections Depression - General and Depression - Science.

 

Source of this article:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=depressions-evolutionary

 

 

 
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