Depressed? So were your ancestors

Depressed? So were your ancestors

Written by Terik Elamrani, Posted on , in Section Relationships That Matter

When considering something as potentially crippling as depression, it is easy to think that there is no silver lining and that depression is all bad. Though many people suffer from depression and require medication or other forms of therapy, depression is not always bad. The root of depression is the mood system. Moods define how a person feels, with lower moods leading to more depression than higher moods. Even these lower moods that lead to depression might not be bad, and may have served an adaptive purpose for our ancestors.

Your mood makes you

There are many theories as to why a low mood may have been adaptive, leading to higher survival and reproduction rate in our ancestors. One of these theories suggests that a low mood enhances our decision making abilities by making the individual more contemplative and better able to analyze the environment around them. Two psychologists, Lyn Abramson and Lauren Alloy termed this phenomenon “depressive realism”. If this is true, then it makes sense that this increased awareness would lead to a higher fitness for those individuals in the way of decreased predation, increased success of foraging, and possibly more opportunities to mate. Though depressive realism may be beneficial, crippling depression is not. Crippling depression is different in the way that it does not lead to an increase in fitness and can be damaging enough to even lead to a decreased fitness. In light of these ideas, it is not farfetched to think of low grade depression (or low mood) as ultimately adaptive.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The culture of maximum productivity and strict routines may be partly responsible for increasing depression rates. One aspect of this new type of culture was found to directly increase depression: increased exposure artificial light. In the new world of maximum productivity, workers are being exposed to increasing amounts of artificial light while the amount of time exposed to natural light is diminishing. It is well known that lack of exposure to natural light can lead to many different conditions such as vitamin D deficiency. For example, residents of San Diego were found to only be exposed to less than one hour of natural light a day. With all of this information in mind, it is very easy to see that depression is a double edged sword, providing some fitness benefits while also decreasing fitness in other ways and that it is our responsibility to seek help if we feel that depression is interfering with daily living.

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