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Man has always been viewed as a social being and his interaction with others plays a very pivotal role in his personal growth and development. According to Keen (2002), man’s need to feel a connection with others is so intense that he will go to great extents, including having make-believe friends just to feel connected.
It can therefore be stated that man cannot wholesomely exist in solitude and his encounter with others, be it by chance or otherwise is very important for his well being. It is due to this fact that depression which at times threatens to infringe mans well being has to be given due consideration.
In this paper, I shall aim to expound on the meaning of depression all the while using psychological underpinning to explore its origin and probably effects be they adverse or otherwise.
What is depression?
Depression can be deemed as a form of mental disorder that brings about feelings of isolation, guilt, a general loss of interest, a decrease in self-worth and suicidal tendencies (Keen, 2002). These feelings are often accompanied by the feeling of emptiness. It should be noted that this isolation need not be physical in nature but can also be emotional.
Contrary to popular belief, depression does not necessarily equate to being lonely and hence it would be perfectly non-contradictory for a depressed individual to describe him/herself as not being lonely. This perhaps stems from the fact that while depression simply implies being emotionally low, it has a physical and mental side and hence is more of a state of mind and needs psychiatric interventions if the patient is to recover fully.
Evolutionary psychology and depression
By definition, Buss (2005) describes evolutionary psychology as one of the many biological approaches used by psychologists in a bid to further our understanding on human behavior.
According to the author, all bodily functions are organized and designed to serve the purpose of survival and reproduction. In this regards, it can be argued that cognition too, has a structure that help in the attainment of these purposes and that this functional structure has been developed over time as a result of natural selection.
Bearing this in mind, Buss (2005) asserts that evolutionary psychology has its focus on the evolutionary properties of the human nervous system. To further explain this, the author states that all tissues in the human physiology are functionally interconnected so as to fulfill the key purposes (survival and reproduction) and that this organization of tissue functions is an evolutionary process rooting from natural selection.
This means that the brain is also functionally organized and connected to other body functions and that it can therefore be best explored by applying evolutionary perspectives.
With such underpinnings, it can equivocally be stated that the brain should not be viewed as an organ with a single function but rather, as a collection of functional parts serving psychological adaptations (functions) designed to serve survival and reproduction.
As such, using the ideas formulated by evolutionary psychologists, it makes sense to argue that human behaviors are as a result of psychological adaptations that evolve in a bid to cope with the environment, social and economic settings among others. In addition, evolutionary psychology seeks to portray human nature as an evolving concept based on the ability of human beings to adapt to recurring problems present since the ancestral days.
The best theory that can be used to link evolutionary psychology to depression is the rank theory. As Stevens and Price (2000) explain, the rank theory depicts depression as “an adaptive response to losing rank and conceiving of oneself as a loser Stevens & Price, 2000 p.56).” As such, depression adaptively serves as a tool to facilitate loosing all the while giving humans a chance to accept the fact that they have lost or failed in certain avenues.
Once an individual accepts defeat or submits to failure, an internal process comes into play acting in an inhibitory capacity. This process leads to the common symptoms that are currently used to identify depression. They include but are not limited to: loss of energy, mood swings, guilt, sleep disorders and a sudden loss of appetite, reduced self-worth among others.
There exist a myriad of functions served by depression. Key among them is an evolved capacity among individuals to recognize and accept difference in ranks held by people in a given social grouping. This has not only decrease aggressiveness among humans but has also enabled the human race to establish a system that ensures that the strongest have precedence in accessing various amenities (food, mates and territory) in society.
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Looking at social interactions among the Homo sapiens of days past, living in a community provided security, food and shelter security and reproductive success. In today’s society, these values still hold true since each individual desires these aspects and having them gives them a sense of belonging that is integral to the physical and mental wellbeing.
As such, having a rank or commanding a high level of respect are desirable attributes that bring about peace and happiness while being unpopular and rejected by others bring misery and disaster to an individual. The later often lead to depression.
Using the rank theory, Stevens and Price (2000) assert that depression evolved from the concept of yielding which was and still is part of a conflict. Yielding played an pivotal role in ritual conflicts as it ensured that the yielder acknowledged defeat and could therefore not attempt a comeback and at the same time, ascertained to the winner that the yielder had given up thereby showcasing the winner’s dominance and rank in society.
Depression can be caused by the demise of a friend, a visitation by tragedy, the feeling that one does not belong to some social circle amongst other reasons. However, whatever the reason for depression, it eventually visits each one of us at some point in time.
Buss (2005) reaffirms this point by quite boldly stating that depression is in fact inevitable to human beings and as such, should be viewed as a river we will all have to cross at some time. These sentiments further support the fact that depression is an adaptation that has and will continue to evolve through time.
Depression affects all human beings at various points and as such is a subject worthy of some consideration. From the discussion above, depression has been portrayed as an evolving adaptation that is integral to maintaining balance in society.
In addition, a brief overview of evolutionary psychology has been offered and the main underpinnings forwarded by this branch of psychology have been used to explain the origin and nature of depression. Even though it is still a relatively new branch of psychology, it provides scholars with a new angle through which different behavioral studies can be merged and understood.
Buss, D. (2005). The handbook of evolutionary psychology. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.
Keen, E. (2002). Depression: self-consciousness, pretending, and guilt. CA: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Stevens, A., & Price, J. (2000). Evolutionary psychiatry: a new beginning. New York: Routledge.