I think a great deal, and wonder about things. Today I am asking the question, “Why does depression exist and what is its purpose?” I guess that is two questions.
Anyway, regardless if you believe in a Creator of the universe or just evolution, most things are here for a purpose. Eyebrows for instance, keep sweat from running down your forehead into your eyes, stinging them. Millions of years ago if you and your buddies were running full tilt trying to escape some large vicious animal, the ones with eyebrows could see better without all that stinging sweat in their eyes, so they escaped. And bred. The eyebrownless ones not so much. That’s evolution. Or, if you believe in a Creator, that is love. God doesn’t want us to always have stinging eyes or be eaten by some animal.
We can also understand the Fight or Flight reaction when faced with danger. If a bobcat leaped out of your linen closet suddenly, fangs the size of carrots, you would immediately have the need to either sock him in the eye or flee down the hallway. So, Fight or Flight is necessary. Fear has its uses too. Fear of losing your job could make you work harder. Fear of Bobcats flinging themselves at you from the linen closet will cause you to always ask your husband to get fresh linen. Anger has its purposes too, as does happiness.
But what purpose is depression?
I am not referring to breaking up with the love of your life and being sad, getting fired sad or other depressions triggered by real events. That’s sort of normal, isn’t it? I am talking about serious depression that seems to come out of nowhere and lasts a few days or in some cases, longer. What purpose does it serve? Does it protect us from something? Does it help us in some manner? I can see losing a job depression might cause one to consider what they did to lose that job and then make adjustments in their life. Although, being fired is bad enough, do we need to be depressed too?
Depression has been with us since the dawn of time. It is reported Eve was so depressed after the talking snake tricked her into eating an apple she refused to talk with Adam for a millennial. Even back then, it was always the husband’s fault.
But as we advanced why didn’t depression fade away? Evolution says the strong survive, the weak don’t. How did the trait of depression continue and in fact, grow more of a problem today?
One theory, formulated by Andy Thomson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia and Paul Andrews, an evolutionary psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University states depression is beneficial. They suggest “… that bouts of depression help people gain perspective through the ways in which negative feelings facilitate analytic thinking.”
People who are depressed tend to focus intensely on the problems at hand and break them into smaller analytic chunks–in effect, depressive feelings enhance our problem solving skills to the point that “people who get more depressed while they are working on complex problems in an intelligence test tend to score higher on the test.”
Depending on what statistics you refer to, anywhere from a third to 80% of Americans are suffering from depression. Since 2020 arrived, with fires, riots, a pandemic, Murder Hornets, disputed elections and so forth, latest statistics say everyone is depressed including our dogs and cats.
I don’t buy that theory though, that depression is beneficial. When I have a case of the blues I rarely solve problems. I usually eat a couple of cartons of Chocolate-Chip Mint ice cream, then get more depressed because I am over weight. And that depression causes me to eat a sack of cookies. So, well, let’s not go there.
Maybe it is just bad brain programming? Pretty much except for writing depressing poetry, sad music or making dark art, any other career or endeavor attempted would be damaged by depression. Do you want a depressed surgeon removing your gall bladder? Ever have a root canal by a depressed dentist?
From my perspective, depression is a net negative. It should have been bred out of the human race by now. The happy survive, the depressed eat more ice cream and get diabetes.
Maybe this is a programming error between our animal selves and our mental/spiritual selves? Like a glitch you might have between a hard rive and motherboard on a computer?
Maybe depression is necessary to handicap the human race. If a large part of the population wasn’t always hampered by depression, we could have invented bigger bombs and space ships to go bomb other solar system planets? Maybe it is hard coded into our DNA to keep us from advancing too fast?
Or maybe depression is designed to make us reach out for help, perhaps connecting to others or to our Creator?
Or maybe depression exists so that others can experience the spiritual benefit of reaching out to help others?
Honestly, I just have no idea why evolution and/or God would allow depression to continue to exist.
By the way, should you actually be depressed while reading this, and you need assistance, you can call one of these national free hotlines.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Samaritans: 1-877-870-4673
- Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255