The preachers of positive thought have, it seems, got it all the wrong way round.
According to scientists, depression is good for us. They suggest that medicating depression as if it is a disease stops us embracing our miserable side and removes the motivation to change our lives for the better.
There are, they say, more benefits from the blues. Being sad can leave victims stronger, better able to cope with life’s challenges, and can lead to great achievements.
And their claims may stack up historically with Sir Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Sir Isaac Newton and Beethoven all suffering from some form of depression.
A growing number of psychiatrists are now questioning whether doctors and drug companies are too keen to treat the condition with pills that may have side effects and also harm the evolution of human emotion.
Professor Jerome Wakefield, of New York University, said: “When you find something this deeply in us biologically you presume it was selected because it had some advantage — otherwise we wouldn’t have been burdened with it. We’re fooling around with part of our biological make-up.”
Studies suggest sadness could have a protection function. For example, an ape that doesn’t obviously slink off after it loses status may be seen as continuing to challenge the dominant ape — and that could be fatal.
Professor Wakefield, the co-author of ‘The Loss of Sadness: How psychiatry transformed normal sorrow into depressive disorder,’ believes sadness has a further role — it helps us learn from our mistakes.
He said: “I think one of the functions of intense negative emotions is to stop our normal functioning — to make us focus on something else for a while.”
It might also act as a psychological deterrent to prevent us making those mistakes in the first place, reports New Scientist.
The risk of sadness may deter us from being too cavalier in relationships, for example.
Paul Keedwell, a psychiatrist at Cardiff University, says even full-blown depression may save us from the effects of long-term stress.
Without taking time out to reflect “you might stay in a state of chronic stress until you’re exhausted or dead.”
Source: The News, 16th January, 2009