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The Upside of Feeling Down - Comments

elpopstardo's Avatar Comment 1 by elpopstardo

First Comment, shame I have nothing to say

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:33:00 UTC | #411127

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 2 by Quetzalcoatl

I'm a little dubious about the claims made in this article.

Depression tends to focus thinking. That 5HT1A receptor, it turns out, also supplies neurons with fuel, allowing them to fire without flagging. That includes neurons in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which have to fire continuously to keep the mind from wandering. (It's an attention circuit.) Focused thinking, like analytical thinking, might help someone overcome depression.

So depression focuses thinking in a way that allows people to overcome being depressed? That doesn't exactly sound advantageous. Why not avoid being depressed in the first place?

Depression tends to make sufferers seek isolation, and keeps them from deriving pleasure from sex, food, or life itself. Obviously this can be crippling (and even fatal) to the sufferer. But it may also be adaptive: these behaviors foster the kind of focused and deliberative thinking that might solve the problem that triggered the depression in the first place.

This seems a little repetitive. I can understand, obviously, that focussed thinking is useful in understanding and resolving problems, but why is it necessary that a person be depressed in order to do that, with all the negative baggage that this entails? Thinking your way out of depression surely isn't that easy.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:33:00 UTC | #411128

flying goose's Avatar Comment 3 by flying goose

But this way of thinking, note the scientists, is "often highly analytical."

One thing I have noticed is just this, I was not very good at analysing before, that's changed, for the better. When I look at my first posts here at the beginning and worst of my depression, I was much less analytical then i am now. My depression has been a real training ground.

Not only that it has also stripped me of the accumulated personnal mythology I had amassed over the years. My story is much clearer as a result.

I am better now BTW.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:34:00 UTC | #411129

Sally Luxmoore's Avatar Comment 4 by Sally Luxmoore

Comment #429433 by flying goose

I'm sorry to hear that you have been depressed, FG, and glad to hear it has improved.

Do you really think that it is depression that has stripped away your 'mythology', though? If you think this site has played a part, couldn't it just be exposure to arguments specifically tailored to counter those beliefs that has done it?

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:41:00 UTC | #411132

annabanana's Avatar Comment 5 by annabanana

Sciam had a much better article very similar to this one. I found the sciam article to be much more convincing. Check it out here:

The most convincing part of it to me was that according to the current diagnostic criteria, at any given time, 30-50% of the population is suffering from depression. If "depression" as it is currently defined is such an aberration in our species, why does such a significant portion of the population have it?

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:46:00 UTC | #411134

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 6 by Quetzalcoatl


The most convincing part of it to me was that according to the current diagnostic criteria, at any given time, 30-50% of the population is suffering from depression.

Really? That seems rather high. I'll have to read the article.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:48:00 UTC | #411135

annabanana's Avatar Comment 7 by annabanana

So depression focuses thinking in a way that allows people to overcome being depressed? That doesn't exactly sound advantageous. Why not avoid being depressed in the first place?

I think the point is to better focus attention not in order to overcome the depression, but to solve the problem that triggered the depression in the first place. If more neurons are dedicated to solving the problem, it will get solved faster than if a person were not depressed.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:49:00 UTC | #411136

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 8 by Quetzalcoatl


I guess the point I was making is that it seems counterproductive that in order for more neurons to be focussed on solving a problem, the person also has to be depressed and suffer the negative connotations that go with it, especially since depression is something that people can struggle with for years.

It seems inefficient, but then perhaps, from an evolutionary standpoint, I shouldn't be surprised by that.

Does anyone know what the diagnostic criteria for depression are? Just curious.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:53:00 UTC | #411137

flying goose's Avatar Comment 9 by flying goose


This was two years ago, it did coinside with my arrival here, that is I arrived depressed.

I would say that depression is part of the picture. But not the whole, it took head searching with a therapist, time in quiet chapels, coming here certainly was very helpful many people here who are now friends on facebook, were very helpful in terms of exposing bad arguments etc but also helping me to come to terms with my agnosticism.

Added to that the people in the outside world,(This site is very much part of my inner world) wife children friends, collegues etc.

Depression is part that whole picture. And it was helpful. To quote Morrisey, I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.

It was part of a cure for a much deeper maliase.

I would liken it to the scab that forms over a wound.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 16:56:00 UTC | #411139

jgravelle's Avatar Comment 10 by jgravelle

Lots of modern health care skews the delicate balance(s) of natural selection. We correct for poor eyesight instead of letting people walk off cliffs or out into traffic.

But unless/until the Lazik Hut down at the mall can begin correcting the genetic predisposition for nearsightedness, we have to accept that the populace's long-term consequences for the individual's short-term medical corrections are unavoidable.

Sigh. If only the government could promote genetic purity, perhaps under the guise of becoming our centralized public health authority?

Nah. Preposterous. Nobody in their right mind would support such a nefarious plan...

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:00:00 UTC | #411140

squinky's Avatar Comment 11 by squinky

Evolutionary psychobabble spandrel

5HT1 receptor evolved 'for' depression and the 5HT2B receptor evolved 'for' obesity. Just think of how fit we all could be!

This article is crap--playing with fire by treating depression£ I see. Those who take Prozac and Xoloft are making themselves less evolutionarily fit. This article falsely equates happiness with avoiding depression.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:02:00 UTC | #411141

Sally Luxmoore's Avatar Comment 12 by Sally Luxmoore

Comment #429443 by flying goose

This is not the place (obviously) to discuss private things, but, if you don't mind saying -

Was what was left of your faith helpful to you when you were feeling low, or, if it was either neutral or unhelpful, was that a factor in your moving away from it?

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:07:00 UTC | #411143

annabanana's Avatar Comment 13 by annabanana


Perhaps then the aberration lies not in the depression, but in the amount of time that the person suffers the depression and whether or not the depression actually rectifies anything and the DSM-IV should be changed to reflect that?

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:11:00 UTC | #411146

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 14 by Quetzalcoatl


I don't know if I'd go as far as that.

5HT1 receptor evolved 'for' depression

Well the article did say this:

Rodents that have a mutation causing them to lose this receptor exhibit fewer symptoms of depression when they suffer some stress, a 1998 paper reported.

That is obviously evidence that it is linked to depression.

It can be argued, as the writers are, that the fact that this receptor has not been selected against suggests that it, and correspondingly depression, confers some kind of advantage.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:14:00 UTC | #411148

flying goose's Avatar Comment 15 by flying goose


The discipline of saying the office; the sight sounds, smells and tastes of the liturgy; the community in which I work the people I work with.

Paying more attention to those moments , however small, of transcendence.
Learning to be mindful, using those methods given to me by my monastic friends.

In some ways I have gone deeper in, not further away.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:16:00 UTC | #411149

TIKI AL's Avatar Comment 16 by TIKI AL

Rodney Dangerfield suffered from depression:

"Most people wake up, and the sun is shining in, and they say: "Up and at 'em, a new day!".

I wake up and the heavyness is hanging over me like a cloud. And sometimes I talk to the heavyness: "Hi, heavyness."

And the heavyness answers: "Boy are you gonna get it today'll be drinking early.""

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:20:00 UTC | #411150

Sally Luxmoore's Avatar Comment 17 by Sally Luxmoore

Comment #429453 by flying goose

I still find your position on religion confusing!

But never mind - I'm glad you're feeling better.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:21:00 UTC | #411151

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 18 by Quetzalcoatl


Perhaps then the aberration lies not in the depression, but in the amount of time that the person suffers the depression and whether or not the depression actually rectifies anything and the DSM-IV should be changed to reflect that?

This is making me think, I like this. :)

I'm not sure. Although I can see that depression might well produce focussed thinking on the problem, in the article it said that some of those suffering from depression reported that their thoughts were not focussed and analytical in this way. Perhaps there's a distinction to be drawn there; focussed depression versus unfocussed depression, perhaps. Of course distinguishing between them would be problematic since it would be inherently dependent on the circumstances that prompted the depression to begin with.

I'll have to think about it some more.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:22:00 UTC | #411152

flying goose's Avatar Comment 19 by flying goose

'I wake up and the heavyness is hanging over me like a cloud.'

That is it exactly. It is almost an external thing.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:29:00 UTC | #411154

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 20 by Cartomancer

Well well, how timely. I find this article in the midst of yet another bout of deep depression about my life. Coincidence sure is a strange thing.

Now, these days I try to spare the public at large from my depressive ruminations. They already fill 70,000 words of poetry and prose across several folders on my hard drive, and it's not as if I generally have anything new to say anymore. Nevertheless, they are directly relevant to these studies, so I shall break my rule this once.

I recognise a lot of what this article is saying in my own behaviour. I have always been obsessively prone to rumination when depressed, which is quite often. I do find myself turning over, analysing, comparing and picking apart my problems in a very compulsive way. I have never actually enjoyed sex with other people, despite the biological compulsion to do it, and food often loses its charms when I am at the nadir of my fortunes.

This has, alas, been going on for ten years now. I can report that, eventually, the individual bouts of depression subside but the over-arching problems that have led to it remain just as bad as ever. In fact, my moods have got steadily worse as the implacable, insoluble nature of my problems becomes more apparent and more all-consuming.

Perhaps if there WERE a solution to my problem I would have discovered it by now. I've certainly put as much effort as I possibly can into finding one. But how can you make someone love you, or stop yourself from loving the one true love of your life, your first, your only love? How can you stop the fact he ignores you and spends all his time with his boyfriend from tearing through your soul like shards of broken glass? How can you redirect your ardour onto another if nobody finds you remotely attractive? How can you cope when nobody understands how deep your love is, how powerfully acidic it has become? When nobody takes your side and just tells you to get over it? When nobody recognises any validity in your truest and deepest feelings of all, and everybody takes the side of the bastard Usurper who has stolen away your one true love, telling you that you are the problem?

Perhaps depression can be a useful spark to solving problems, but it is useless when there is no solution to be had. Though, to be honest, the idea of improving counselling and psychiatry with an injection of evolutionary psychology and neuroscience sounds like a positive step - the counsellors and psychiatrists I have been seeing these last five years have achieved precisely nothing, save increased expenditure on biscuits and tissues.

No stronger love there ever was
Than that which binds my heart to yours
Not Helen’s, Tristan’s, none of those,
Nor Orpheus’s, nor Romeo’s.

Your kind demeanour, beauty bright
Have set my fragile soul alight
Your perfect face upon my thought
Has rack and ruin nightly wrought

With kindness you have fed the blaze
Compassion serves to draw my gaze
Truest friendship rends my side
Upon your cross now crucified

Your body, lithe and strong and pale
Your hair, a blackened mourning veil,
Your smile, in which my world dissolves
Have picked me clean like starving wolves

I falter, fumble, fail and scream
Assailed in daylight and in dream
I try to purge you from my soul
To make me half to make me whole

Such power you hold, my dearest friend,
To see me blessed or else condemned
To save me, damn me, at your whim,
I give my soul, yet you choose him.

My love for you will never fade
It’s simply how my mind is made
All I can do is learn to cope
With resignation, not with hope.

Within myself I search in vain
For balms and salves to ease the pain
To quench the burning fires of love
Astarte’s flaming brand remove

I would destroy the universe
To quell the blaze and end the curse
Unmake reality, destroy
Unfeeling fate, my darling boy

Yet all the power I hold is weak
I can but feel and sing and speak
Express in verse my darkest fears
And hope my words hold back my tears

I can’t impress with wit or charm
I have no strength in chest or arm
No skill with which to win your heart
I can but watch and write my part

With metric rhyme I must begin,
The only skill I’ve talent in,
Compose so I may yet be free
I bind my pain in poetry

As spells I craft each line and verse
As magic words to lift my curse
To kill the daemon, end its claim,
First you must give voice its name

A prison I intend they be
They hold my pain and keep from me
The anguish otherwise I’d feel
Give me time to rest and heal.

Imperfect, yes, my magic is
No match for all the spells of his
Which daily flay me so unfairly,
Still, it keeps me sane, though barely.

In poems I shall drown the world
Until the snake around me curled
Lets free its grip for lack of air
And lets me live without despair.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:29:00 UTC | #411155

Demotruk's Avatar Comment 21 by Demotruk

Do rats ruminate? There must be more to it than thinking your problems over, or are they performing subconscious problem solving?

It is very interesting to suggest that rats could analyze their life problems which are causing them to be depressed subconsciously or not, but I find it hard to believe. I find it easier to believe that there is some other benefit to depression that we have not thought of yet.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 17:59:00 UTC | #411169

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 22 by hungarianelephant

Well that was pretty unsatisfactory.

First up, it seems to put the cart before the horse. The assumption is that depression would ordinarily be selected against. This is not evident. For it to have an evolutionary effect, it would need depressives to have fewer children on average. Why should this be so? Decreased appetite for food is not very convincing, since it is extremely rare for people to starve themselves to death under any circumstances. Decreased appetite for sex? Few of our sexual encounters result in the production of children. A marginal change in number is unlikely to make a lot of difference in the long run. Suicide? Contrary to popular belief, the correlaton between depression and suicide is not strong. This is obvious when you consider the huge numbers of occasional depressives and the relatively tiny number of suicides.

Secondly, who says there is a "reason" for depression anyway? There may be specific factors which trigger a bout, but that is not the same thing at all. So discussions about whether the state can help solve the problem that caused it are moot - as well as circular as Quetz points out.

anna - Thanks for posting the Scientific American link, which at least got into rather better detail.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 18:27:00 UTC | #411175

George Lennan's Avatar Comment 23 by George Lennan

Oscar off sesame street:
"When i am sad, that makes me happy... but that makes me sad.. which makes me happy... so I get real down, which makes me real glad, and that makes me sad... which makes me happy...."

Are we saying we should be chuffed to be depressed after all? Bollocks! Hand me the prozac nurse.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 18:29:00 UTC | #411177

Demotruk's Avatar Comment 24 by Demotruk

Depression is highly costly in that it prevents you from performing ordinary tasks without being distracted. If it continues for a long time it can do more mental damage. As such, if there is no reproductive benefit to being depressed, it should be expected to be selected against.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 18:51:00 UTC | #411185

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 25 by bendigeidfran

Well I'm depressed now. Thanks Carto.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 19:04:00 UTC | #411191

root2squared's Avatar Comment 26 by root2squared

I am very skeptical about this. At the very least, this doesn't apply to me. If I'm feeling down, the last thing I feel like doing is to focus on anything. I prefer to do something mindless, like play a video game or watch a sitcom. Best is to just go for a run. A 6 mile run, and you're right back on top of the world.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 19:19:00 UTC | #411195

Corylus's Avatar Comment 27 by Corylus

<!-- -->The trouble with both this and the sciam article is that it treats depression as a unitary phenomenon. This is not a given.

Now, if there were some distinction were made between bipolar and unipolar depression I might be inclined to see more possibilities here.

For example, if you are going to talk about increased focus of thought then a hypomanic episode might well be the way to go. However, a large part of critical thinking is constantly checking and rechecking conclusions that have already been drawn - aka self-regulation. This is not a hypomanic trait. Now you could argue that the social isolation would help foster self-regulation, but that is not a given either. While, admittedly there would be less distractions and while admittedly self-regulation is something we do to ourselves... well, other people can help remind us to engage in this process when we forgotten to do so.

Put less tactfully, everyone needs someone to tell them that they are being an idiot now and again

Bog standard unipolar depression seems an even harder sell for this idea. As for an evolutionary advantage to post-natal depression - well I wouldn't even want to go there.

However, while I am currently unconvinced, I certainly would not dismiss this wholesale. I am sure that the researchers have done much more work than briefly reported here. I simply can't help but wonder though whether the scope of this idea is something that would work only on a sub-set of depressives in a sub-set of environmental conditions: if indeed this idea does work at all.


Lovely poem.

I am not going to tell you to not be sad about your situation, because you evidently are sad despite many "helpful" comments of this type.

What I will say is that it is possible to be gently sad - rather than ragingly, achingly, screamingly sad. A touch of amusement over what fools we all make of ourselves (over love and other things) can help switch us from one situation to another. Gentle sadness is not ideal either, but a change is as good as a rest as they say.

Book recommendation: Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope. The author of this book of poems is good at fostering this touch of amusement.

[Edit: Correction of hypergraphic punctuation]

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 20:47:00 UTC | #411217

Kmita's Avatar Comment 29 by Kmita

Quetzalcoatl, your whole point of skipping past depression and it's perceived problem solving benefits has a flaw. It certainly would be convenient to just skip to the end with drugs, but you're neglecting the cause of depression. Drugs just treat the symptoms, they don't solve your problems for you.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 20:53:00 UTC | #411219

andersemil's Avatar Comment 28 by andersemil

I don't believe there's anything positive to be said about depression. I think depression is a side-effect of some other mechanism which was naturally selected to be present. Actually much like religion :) I think depression should be compared to a snowball effect-- what is there at the beginning may be highly beneficiary, but as the effect goes on it turns on the subject and becomes very dangerous. Many highly productive artists have claimed to suffer from heavy depression from time to time, but I don't think anyone is very creative at the height of depression. It is evidently not an empowering feeling.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 20:53:00 UTC | #411218

Rikitiki13's Avatar Comment 30 by Rikitiki13

Carto: love your verse...such eloquence.

Ok, I'm not quite so schooled as some here, but couldn't it be that the evolutionary advantages of depression are just these:
a) being depressed (feeling bad about stuff) gets your attention and, therefore, focuses you on working through and/or accepting your reality. Which seems to me a better survival adaptation than religious or other 'blue-sky' happy-face denial mechanisms.
b) Those who can work through or live with depression pass on that trait, enabling future generations to better work through or live with depression.
c) Those who can't deal with depression suicide out and don't pass on the 'can't deal with it' trait(s).

Yeah, simplistic, I'm sure, but wanting to add to the discussion. Thanks.

Wed, 04 Nov 2009 21:25:00 UTC | #411234