It's no secret, there is depression among us.
Asking the question, "How many Americans suffer from depression?" pulls up a plethora of information, articles, research and studies.
It appears that many of us experience a wide range of responses from the blues to severe clinical depression.
A University of Virginia psychiatrist who has been treating patients with depressive disorders for over thirty years believes that depression is an evolutionary paradox. Sierra Bellows reporting in "The Evolution of Depression" tells us more about Dr. Andy Thomson and his unorthodox ideas. Excerpt.
"Since the dawn of the species about 200,000 years ago, humans have evolved in response to the environments in which they’ve found themselves. In Northern Europe, lighter skin helped early inhabitants get enough vitamin D during the dark winters. In places in Africa plagued by malaria, many people have a genetic mutation that makes them immune. Like all living things since the first protozoa, the human body has been shaped by natural selection. And evolutionary psychology suggests that the mind has as well. Evolutionary psychologists look for the advantages of different behaviors and mental traits that might cause them to spread through the population.
For more than 30 years, U.Va. psychiatrist Dr. Andy Thomson (Med ’74) has been treating patients, and most often he treats them for depression. Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, and each year clinical depression affects more than 17 million Americans.
Thomson and his collaborator Paul Andrews, now at McMaster University in Canada, believe that depression is an evolutionary paradox. If it didn’t confer any advantages, it should have been selected against and occur only rarely in the population. What kind of evolutionary advantage might depression have?
“Depression, psychic pain, alerts you to the fact that you have a problem, stops business as usual, focuses your attention,and can provide a signaling function that you need help,” says Thomson. “Basically, it forces you to think. Now with all its stressors and the myriad ways of evading them, modern life doesn’t encourage you to think deeply. But thinking deeply works. It’s doing what the mind was made to do.”
Not everyone agrees with the theory. Some take issue with the premise that depression helps in problem-solving and other executive functions. Perhaps, as is suggested, we need to reconsider how we define "depression" and not lump everything from "feeling blue" to suffering from chronic suicidal ideations in the same basket.
You may wish to read on to gauge the full range of professional disagreements and decide for yourself: What use is depression?
Here's my experience: I have learned when enough is enough and I have to step back from the rigors of the world. I call it time out in the natural world or sitting on the curb to look and listen while the parade marches by. I have expanded my capacity for empathy, understanding and compassion in the face of enormous daily global suffering encountered in the work I do. I have developed resilience born of experience. My mantra is, "Fall down 7 - get up 8."
Maybe the key is this: how we play the hand we are dealt to find something life-affirming in the grimness of a disease, condition or situation we did not ask for. Here's an example of one man's return After Disaster Strikes.