Does Depression Help Us Cope?

Many mental health experts blame the recent spike in mental illness on the DSM-5 (the standard classification of mental disorders) and the ever-expanding list of psychological conditions it identifies. But others, like neuroscientist Stephen Porges, aren’t convinced we can attribute increasing mental health problems to just diagnoses — and new ideas about mental health are changing how we view depression forever.

We used to think depression started in the head and presented physical symptoms as a result, a behavioral representation of the turmoil within. But Porges, and researchers like him, believe it’s actually opposite of that. They theorize that the body can take in stimuli and internalize situational data much better than we thought, and that — at least for the Americans afflicted with mild or moderate depression — the mental illness is an immune reflex, similar to the swelling caused when blood rushes toward an injury to flood it with nutrients and, in some cases, immobilizing the area. Of course, that swelling can be a serious health problem in itself, and the same is true for depression.

However, the new school of thought points out the positive effects of depression in many situations. For example, when people are in long term traumatic situations, depression takes them “out” of themselves, and researchers posit that this numbing effect allows them to survive their daily difficulties, and memories of the period may be less damaging once they escape it.

The question, then, is what do these new theories mean about the epidemic of mental illness sweeping America today? At the base level, it indicates that many Americans find themselves in unpleasant living situations, at the least, and hope for a future where that isn’t the case. Perhaps, Porges’ group says, modern people feel trapped in a world where comfort and convenience are the highest priorities. Mass depression is the result.

This means that to survive, depression may be our buffer until we can pursue a vastly different way of living — a societal dilemma of the first order, and one we cannot afford to ignore.

-Randy Sklar

If you or someone you love is struggling with mental or substance abuse disorders, there is help available. The SAMHSA National Helpline is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year, information service, available in English and Spanish. They can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889.


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