25 August 2009

Depression: Disorder vs Adaptation

A question worth considering:
Research in the US and other countries estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of people have met current psychiatric diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder sometime in their lives. But the brain plays crucial roles in promoting survival and reproduction, so the pressures of evolution should have left our brains resistant to such high rates of malfunction. Mental disorders should generally be rare - why isn't depression?

According to a new study and others it cites most instances of depression

should not be thought of as a disorder at all [but rather] an adaptation, a state of mind which brings real costs, but also brings real benefits.

Depression is nature's way of telling you that you've got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving. Therapies should try to encourage depressive rumination rather than try to stop it, and they should focus on trying to help people solve the problems that trigger their bouts of depression.

Well, duh!

But for many people the problems causing their depression are externally imposed and no amount of action on their part will resolve them. These are systemic issues: lack of affordable housing; municipal laws that favour those who own property vs. those who don't; the erosion of democratic institutions at all levels of government; industrial agriculture and aquaculture that displace small, local farming; a nationwide infrastructure and billions in taxes that prop up an auto industry which should have been allowed to fossilize; a market capitalism ideology that cleaves to the bootstrap principle for the hoi polloi but not for corporations.

Over-diagnosis of depression is one cause for the increase in numbers reported to have the 'disorder', but unquestionably more people experiencing distress haven't the means to resolve the problems which caused it in the first place, problems such as poverty. Thus their depression becomes chronic and they're likely to develop bi-polar swings. In such cases, depression as an 'adaptive' response becomes maladaptive because the resolution for which it exists never results.

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