A study published this past month by researchers at McMaster University examined the idea that depression isn’t just a disease.[i] Instead, they believed it could be a useful tool for those in the middle of real life struggles. One of the researchers, Paul Andrews, said the following about this question. “Depression has long been seen as nothing but a problem. We are asking whether it may actually be a natural adaptation that the brain uses to tackle certain problems. We are seeing more evidence that depression can be a necessary and beneficial adaptation to dealing with major, complex issues that defy easy understanding.”[ii]
The researchers developed a test to measure an important aspect of the thinking of those with depression; analytic rumination. The authors did not want to diminish the importance of serious depression. However, they believed that understanding how people think while they are depressed could give an insight into how to help. Analytic rumination is a kind of thinking in which the individual focuses strongly on the problem they face. It is difficult to distract them and as a result they may neglect important things such as eating, friendships, work, and sleep. The researchers believed that this concentration of thinking may be a natural and somewhat involuntary response.
The idea that depression may be a normal response to the stresses and strains of life is nothing new. A growing number of those in professions that care for those labeled with depression believe that most of those labeled with depression today are struggling with normal sadness due to loss.[iii] They also believe that this normal sadness is a useful tool in dealing with problems. It often draws help from friends. Normal sadness gives us the opportunity to reassess our goals and change when struggling on might simply lead to failure.
This isn’t a new idea. The apostle Paul spoke about the issue of sorrow 2000 years ago. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2Corinthians 7:10) Sadness is not an accident or a disease. It is a God given emotion that God intends to use to drive us to Himself.
Now, someone might notice that I have substituted the word sorrow for depression and they would be right. I have done that because that is what psychiatry and medicine in the United States have done for years. And while they did that, they labeled sadness, even normal grieving as a disease. Paul would say they were wrong. Sadness over loss, normal sadness is an emotional gift that God gives us to draw us in His direction.[iv]
So the researchers and Paul agree. They see depression with its sadness as a normal adaptive tool that helps us deal with problems. Paul said that when we sorrow according to the will of God, it can lead to change and salvation. The researchers are getting closer.
[i] Skye P. Barbic, Zachary Durisko, Paul W. Andrews. Measuring the Bright Side of Being Blue: A New Tool for Assessing Analytical Rumination in Depression. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (11): e112077 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112077
[ii] McMaster University. "A new test measures analytical thinking linked to depression, fueling the idea that depression may be a form of adaptation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 November 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141119125105.htm>.
[iii] The Loss of Sadness, Horwitz and Wakefield. P43.
[iv] Good Mood Bad Mood, Charles Hodges P55.