In their paper titled “Love’s Labour Lost,” recently submitted to a medical journal, anthropologist Edward Hagen, biologist Paul Watson and psychiatrist Andy Thomson suggest that full-blown major depression disorder may be a complex social adaptation originating in the human evolutionary past and designed to help otherwise powerless individuals influence their social groups, focus on problem-solving and obtain help from those with whom one is in conflict.
“Depression evolved to compel assistance from reluctant social partners,” they theorize. “Depression signals need and compels social assistance by preventing the sufferer from providing benefits to others.”
They cite the severe cost of depression not only to the individual but to the whole social network.
“The toll depression takes on both its victims and society may be precisely what it was, in human evolutionary history, designed to do.”
This thinking – that depression is an important signal and part of a complex dynamic among people that provokes change – leads these researchers to argue that drug therapy alone for depression may not be the best solution even it relieves symptoms.
It may be that non-chronic major depressive disorder (MDD) is like fever – a signal that something has gone awry and needs to be healed.
Here is the full story. Here is a link to the relevant research. Here is the specific piece in question. Here is a related piece, called “Depression as Bargaining”. For a good time try using that description on your girlfriend.
Why I am skeptical: I can see why emotional sensitivity to bad events has survival value. Emotions bring general benefits, plus the sensitivity keeps you away from bad events to some degree. It is harder for me to see a great importance for the negative reaction itself, ex post, once bad events have happened.