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  1. In my humble opinion this topic resides at the root of the tree which branches into other fields. I feel that knowledge of this topic - depending on who reads it - can have personal benefits for those with symptoms that might be described as depression, anxiety, and in fact most of the disorders described by the DSM. I've run it by several people with various forms of depression and their feedback - at least insofar as they agree with the concept that it may help - confirms this. (I was initially going to post this as a comment here, but I didn’t feel that atheism - while related - was specifically relevant, and it needn’t influence the benefits of this way of looking at the world. As an atheist - technically-speaking - with reservations about its current application, I think evolutionary study can benefit studies of sociology, anthropology, psychology etc. whatever the belief system of the person reading it). I acknowledge that - as with all tools - I suppose it could work the other way too, perhaps eliciting unforeseen negative emotions and responses, for example a view that "this is the way we are programmed, so there's no hope". In that specific case I would argue that there are plenty of things we are "programmed" for that we actively defy to our benefit. Lastly it could be the case that this is not useful information, and it will have no bearing on a depressed state. But given the effect the "mental illness" labels do have I doubt this. The main possible problem I foresee here is that evolutionary concepts - while not difficult to communicate - can seem a little cold and mundane. Perhaps it just needs rewording or dressing up. A potentially rose-tinted Summary of Potential Benefits When compared with our current model of psychopathology (the one that labels us as disordered), the more impartial overhead view known as evolutionary psychology more accurately - and ultimately more compassionately - explains why distressed states produce certain emotions and behaviour in individuals. But it goes both deeper and further, and covers the causal bases and triggers of these states, including their purpose in a wider social context, and it also explains the corresponding emotions and behaviour in groups (which could be extended to include groups of practitioners who pathologize and over-medicate). This, as opposed to the downright false concepts of “mental illness”, namely locating the entire problem in the individual’s brain regardless of context. Painful as it may seem to the sufferer at the time, the part that exists in a person’s brain is not an individual malfunction, but rather it is a social function (as echoed in the article shared by Clearday in the post I referred to). The backbone of the theory can be summarised in one line taken from this book: “Subordination and Defeat - An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy” - edited by Leon Sloman and Paul Gilbert (a longer extract is pasted at the end) “The homeostasis of the group is achieved at the expense of mood change in the individual.” Underlying that is the fact that the reasons for most of our underlying drives - both in the individual and the group - are (more often than not) invisible to both parties. Having this knowledge and thereby bringing the dynamic into view is potentially empowering to the individual in distress. With this knowledge on board, questions regarding our responses to our social context can be answered, or at the very least weighed up against our experiences. There can be less self-criticism, which is vital to the process of attaining wellness. This even and especially where it is the case that past trauma is playing a part. According to the book's blurb, another application might be “to distinguish depressions that may have adaptive functions from those that are the result of maladaptive feedback systems”, which is to say in both cases the social context is accounted for. I think that knowing what drives us and others may even allow individuals to achieve a more negotiated agreement with the group, and thereby sidestep some of the anguish that is applied externally by others when we venture too close to edges of acceptability. That said, I would also imagine that the other side of the equation - friends, family, society-at-large, and especially those with vested interests - may potentially resist such notions, which is to say that caution in sharing this knowledge may perhaps be advisable, especially in times of personal distress. There is no conspiracy implied here. As distressing as the experiences are, these are mundane processes in the wider scheme of things. But it’s also worth noting that as mundane as these processes are, with this knowledge on board we remain free to think and feel, and arguably we are now better-equipped to do so. Here is The Basis of the Theory ..bearing in mind it could be any of revelatory, inflammatory, slightly interesting, yesterday's news or downright wrong, I'm open to hearing viewpoints. Also, their reference framework of "rank" needn't be taken to mean actual rank such as lieutenant vs private, or boss vs employee. It could be any hierarchy, such as those that exist in families or even unseen ones between supposed equal friends. Extract from: Subordination and Defeat An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy Edited by Leon Sloman , Paul Gilbert Self-Esteem and Depression There is a two-way recursive interaction between self- esteem and depression. Part of the depressive response consists of a lowering of self-esteem. Yet lowering of self- esteem can trigger an episode of depression. Moreover, people with low (and labile) self-esteem are more vulnerable to depression (Brown, Andrews, Harris, Adler, & Bridge, 1986). Mood change can be seen as a self-esteem management mechanism, moderating self-esteem to fit with current social circumstances. If times are adverse, depression lowers self-esteem, and the individual takes a less prominent role in social interaction; but if things are going well, elation helps the individual to cope with the increased social demands of high rank. In fact mood change is the only rapid method of changing self- esteem after adolescence is completed. Self-esteem can be changed by prolonged intensive therapy or by life experience, but often one sees patients who lead very successful lives but are still encumbered with low self- esteem consolidated in childhood and adolescence. Change by life experience is like going up the stairs of a skyscraper, whereas mood change is like using the elevator. Self-Esteem and Subordination In egalitarian societies like that of the Kalahari Bushmen, the value of global self-esteem and wide variation in self- esteem is less than in hierarchical societies. As James pointed out, self-esteem depends on successes, but this only applies in societies in which success is admired. When conspicuous success is treated with disapprobation, as with the Bushmen, there are likely to be less people who think themselves better than everyone else. A culture of counterdominance prevails, and anyone who rises too high is brought down a peg by group response (Boehm, 1993). The atmosphere of counterdominance is vividly portrayed in the first act of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. It is in hierarchical societies that low self-esteem and depression come into their own. Some people are doomed to eternal subordination, and they can adapt to this at more than one level of the triune mind and brain (MacLean, 1990). They can become humble, and have genuine admiration for those fortunate enough to be at the top of the pecking order, or they can become depressed, dysthymic personalities, whose depression takes away their power to alter their situation. In dysthymic personality it is assertive (competitive) and sexual initiative that is inhibited, whereas the ability to carry out instructions is relatively unimpaired (Akiskal, 1990). Regardless of the lifelong strategy of high or low self- esteem, social circumstances may change, and there may be a need for a formerly high-ranking individual to adapt to low rank. This is where an episode of major depression is adaptive. Depression lowers self-esteem so that the individual falling in rank is accommodated to his or her reduced circumstances. Depression also lowers resource value or the importance one attaches to things, so that the loss of the trappings of former high rank will give less incentive to regain them. Depression lowers the sense of ownership, so that the loss of resources and territory will not arouse indignation. In particular, severe depression alters thinking about former status in such a way that high former wealth or position is denied, even to a delusional degree, so that the motivation to regain former rank is reduced. All these changes help to alter and readjust the individual who is accustomed to command, and to accommodate him or her to a subordinate role in which he or she has to obey orders (Gardner & Price, 1999). Thus, the individual avoids group ostracism and helps to ensure group cohesion (Leary & Downs, 1995). The homeostasis of the group is achieved at the expense of mood change in the individual. In the case of the individual who rises in rank, these changes occur in the reverse direction. If his or her rise in rank is not sanctioned by the social group, he or she is likely to be regarded as suffering from hypomania (Gardner & Price, 1999). Non affiliated link to the entry on Amazon.com Further Reading There seems to have been some fairly thorough work done in this, and related areas, which I’m sure is underfunded. At the heart of the matter, this paper covers the evolutionary theory (ie. not just in humans) as is applies to rank, and hence depression. Territory, Rank and Mental Health: The History of an Idea Most interestingly they point out that the +600 studies of depression done on rodents which heavily influence psychiatric thinking may be flawed. This is because rodents hibernate which affects the escalation/de-escalation in mania and depression. Apparently us primates are closer to reptiles when it comes to these primal responses, and they propose studying depression in reptiles instead. If this sound far-fetched or off the mark - and I agree it does on the surface - then check out the paper and see if it convinces you. (Clue: it has nothing to do with David Icke).
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