Why Depression Is A Perfectly Normal Response To Complex Problems

Rather than being an abnormal condition, aspects of depression are actually highly adaptive.

Rather than being an abnormal condition, aspects of depression are actually highly adaptive.

Depression can be a perfectly normal reaction to facing a complex problem, research suggests.

Rather than being an abnormal condition, aspects of depression are actually highly adaptive.

Being depressed involves devoting time and energy to thinking about the problem, trying to understand its causes and generating possible solutions.

Dr Paul Andrews, an expert on depression, says:

“Depression has long been seen as nothing but a problem.

We are asking whether it may actually be a natural adaptation that the brain uses to tackle certain problems.

We are seeing more evidence that depression can be a necessary and beneficial adaptation to dealing with major, complex issues that defy easy understanding.”

Psychologists label the state of focusing on problems to the exclusion of all else ‘rumination’.

Marriage breakups, chronic illnesses and other difficulties can lead to highly ruminative states.

Depressed people lose their interest in anything apart from their problems.

This can lead to the classic signs of depression, including disrupted sleeping, eating and cutting oneself off from social interaction.

To explore this problem-solving reaction to life’s difficulties, researchers have developed a way of measuring analytical rumination.

After giving the test to 579 people, they found it was related to depression.

Thinking of depression as a natural response to a difficult situation could be beneficial, said Dr Skye Barbic, the study’s first author:

“Instead of discussing the disease as a ‘bad thing’, clinicians may be able to help patients have insight about the potential adaptive purposes of their thinking and how this may be used as a strength to move forward in their lives.”

Dr Zachary Durisko, study co-author, said:

“When working with many people who experience chronic health conditions, depression is often the limiting factor to recovery and goal attainment.

The test can potentially quickly tell us when people are struggling to identify their problems, trying to set goals, or trying to move forward in their lives.

We hypothesize that very different levels of support and care are required throughout these different stages of thinking.”

The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE (Barbic et al., 2014).

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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