Depression and Evolution
Why Do Some of Us Become Depressed?
We currently have quite a few possible explanations as to what can cause depression, but much like many mood disorders there are a number of potential triggers and many proposed treatments.
Sometimes it can be brought on by environmental factors alone, such as general stress or the death of a close relative or friend. Other times it can be explained by physical causes in the body such as genes or hormonal imbalances.
Many instances of depression are brought on by a combination of the two!
One fact about depression is indisputable, how common it is within our society. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention almost one in ten people must contend with some form of serious depression during their lives.
The reason why depression and its associated symptoms are taken so seriously is that it can be incredibly debilitating if not treated. Ask anyone who has struggled with depression and one will find a description of a disorder that worms it way into every part of their existence. One’s thoughts, behaviour and physical well-being can all be negatively affected. Anyone can be a victim. Some of history’s finest artists, writers, statesmen and thinkers have struggled with depression. For instance, Winston Churchill had to face so many bouts with his recurring depression that he gave it a name, the black dog.
If depression is so common among human populations then there must be some underlying reason for its existence. Why are so many people affected? Depression is not a virus or bacteria. People have written about it under different names as long as we have been able to put some form of pencil to paper. In an attempt to answer this question two professors have put forward an interesting new angle for viewing the issue of depression. Andrew Miller, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Emory University and Charles Raison of the University of Arizona suspect that the genetic variations that cause depression to be seemingly hardwired into the human species is an evolutionary adaptation.
At first this may sound counter-intuitive. Why would humans evolve to be predisposed towards such a disorder? This would seem to hinder rather than help our development as a species. The problem with this viewpoint is that it approaches the problem with a 21st century mindset. The modern societies we currently occupy are an incredibly new phenomenon. For the vast majority of our species existence on this planet human life was a constant, every day struggle for survival. According to our best estimates Homo Sapiens (humans) only transitioned from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled agricultural communities at around 8,000-5,000 BC.Continued on the next page