Is Depression Good For Us?

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • I guess we've all become accustomed to thinking of depression as a disease process and something that is entirely negative. There's a very strong case for this but perhaps we shouldn't dismiss our negative emotions as entirely without function or purpose?


    We're actually quite used to listening to and understanding the signals our bodies send out when things are wrong. We feel thirst because some mechanism in our body tells us we need to drink. Similarly, hunger tells us to eat and pain tells us to take it easy and slow down. When it comes to the mind perhaps we're less capable of understanding the messages or acting upon them in a constructive fashion?

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    I recently read a blog by Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D where he asks the question, ‘why do depressed people lie in bed?' Rottenberg's case is that moods have a function and low moods tend to occur when we hit an obstacle. If we attempt to redouble our efforts only to find the obstacle remains the low mood gets worse. Humans, unlike other animals, have developed a capacity to choose whether or not to act on their moods. It places us in any number of potentially difficult situations where our mood says ‘this is wrong' but other motives override the signals. Imagine the possible scenarios as we choose to remain in a loveless or intimidating relationship, or a mind-numbing job, or in a high crime area, or all and more besides!


    Of course not everything in life is a choice and sometimes we find ourselves bound to situations and circumstances where we have little or no choice. Nobody chooses to be disabled, or old, or blind, or have motor-neuron disease. But, what if we know there is a choice and that we are directly attempting to suppress or avoid what our mood is telling us? There's every reason to suggest that our moods are like our bodies in that they crave a state of harmony. Push the mood aside for long enough and just maybe it reacts by declaring ‘that's it; no more pursuing of this unattainable goal you're committed to, you can just stop'. Then it's shut-down time. No more energy, enthusiasm, willingness to struggle on, retreat to bed.


    What does this tell us about the role of the bed in depression? Well, as Rottenberg points out, conventional wisdom states that depressed people lack motivation and are uncommitted to goals. However, looked at from the perspective I've just been discussing, maybe there's a case for suggesting that people take to their beds because they are overcommitted to goals they are unable to attain.


    I find some of these ideas intuitively appealing. We know depression is becoming a more prominent issue and the fact that it is increasing during a period of rapid social, work and technological change, as well as unstable times, is probably no coincidence. Some people do listen to their moods and do make necessary changes. But so many people, for whatever reason, either feel they can't or simply try to ignore what they are feeling. Becoming just a bit more sensitive to what our moods are trying to tell us is a small price to pay and perhaps one way of avoid our moods taking over the controls and shutting us down.


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    Rottenberg, J. Why Do Depressed People Lie in Bed? A Surprising Theory. Psychology Today. Jun 3 2001.

Published On: June 22, 2011