At How I Beat Depression we believe the causes of depression are many: genetic, biological, psychological, existential and social. Mood disorders are complex conditions caused by a constellation of complex functions working together.
But there is a genetic component, and biology and psychology informs us of how depression may be a useful function from previous times and consequently how to better understand and treat it now.
It’s often hard to understand why depression is so widespread, why hasn’t human evolution done something to systematically reduce the predispositions and numbers of people who battle debilitating depression. The prevalence of depression makes it seem hardwired into our brains.
An interesting new study into the evolution of depression in a proposal to the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry has shed light into the susceptibility to depression that remains stubbornly embedded into the human genome.
The crux of the argument is that depression is linked to the function of the immune system and that depression may have been an effective way of warding off and surviving infection. It can also explain the disruption of sleep patterns too which occurs both in mood disorders and when fighting and infection. Imaging studies reveal that depressed people have higher levels of inflammation even when not fighting off an infection.
Bioscience Technology observes:
Infection was the major cause of death in humans’ early history, so surviving infection was a key determinant in whether someone was able to pass on his or her genes. The authors propose that evolution and genetics have bound together depressive symptoms and physiological responses that were selected on the basis of reducing mortality from infection. Fever, fatigue/inactivity, social avoidance and anorexia can all be seen as adaptive behaviors in light of the need to contain infection, they write.*
This is a very interesting development. As with many mental health problems in previous ages they did serve a useful function and purpose, however in contemporary social setting they are disadvantageous. A classic example is anxiety disorder where people live with the flight/fight response in response to no immediate real or imagined threat.
This study may launch further enquiry into treating treatment resistant depression medication and further understanding the link between stress and depression. We believe it is the beginning of a much better understanding of the history and treatment of depression.
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