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aeraeber's picture

Depression is helpful?

Reading Lehrer’s article “Depression’s Upside,” my gut-level response to the idea that depression could be beneficial was horror and disbelief. I found it difficult to believe that such a feeling could ever help anyone. I certainly don’t find the urge to hurt myself in order to alleviate the paralyzing guilt over a silly mistake particularly helpful. I realized however, that Andrews and Thompson were talking about a different kind of depression, or at least a different level of it. What they really mean, in my opinion, is simple sadness that lasts a bit longer than a person would like. I agree that sadness can be helpful, that it forces you to reflect on your problems and find solutions for them. Depression, however, stops you from seeing those solutions on your own.  I can know, intellectually, that my friend will forgive me for the stupid thing I did or said, but I can’t forgive myself, because I don’t believe that they should forgive me.  Today is a good day, so I know can read my last sentence and see that it doesn’t make sense, but on a bad day, it is the most logical thing in the world.  Yes, real world problems can be a source of depression, and sometime therapy is just as, if not more, helpful than anti0depressant medication, but the need for therapy is still dysfunction.  Needing someone else to talk you through your problems so that you can see a solution that you would never find on your own, no matter how much “time to think” you had, is not an evolutionary advantage. Lack of functioning or even just diminished functioning would have gotten early humans killed.

The article also mentioned the link between creativity and depression and the idea that depression increases memory and some measures of intelligence. In regards the latter, I would argue that it applies more to sadness than to actual depression. A “low mood” might help you focus on a memory exercise, but, the researchers admit that this effect was only present when “the subjects were distracted from their pain.” I agree with Lehrer that the connection between creativity and depression has something to do with self-loathing. If you hate your writing or your painting or your music, you might continue to work on it, to try and make it into something you don’t hate quite so much.  You see the flaws in your own work more sharply than any other critic, because you cannot see anything you created as worthy.

To some degree, I understand where Andrews and Thompson got their idea; it goes along with the subject of this week’s forum.  Neuronal signals can’t explain all of human behavior, and what they offer is a possibly reasoning behind some neuronal signals.  Things in the brain have to happen for a reason, something has to cause neurons to fire. There has to be a reason why a signal follows one path instead of another. How did the brain get to be the way it is? How and why are some connections made and others not made? Where do the dysfunctions of the brain come from? Andrews and Thompson look to evolution for an answer, but maybe there are other places to look, or even other answers to be found in evolution.



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