I’ve mentioned before that mental illness is somewhat differentiated from regular medicine in that responsibility isn’t absolved and this is reflected in the treatment plans (therapy and the decision to work and change). This hints that a person could feasibly give themselves depressive symptoms by their rumination habits (I’ve linked to at least one study on rumination and far poorer clinical outcomes before but go nuts on Google) or make their pre-existing depression worse – by choice. We all know people who make a neutral situation bad or who love to wallow in self-pity. Wallowing is pretty close an analogue to rumination. Those people want an excuse not to try.
I think this is about status. If you’re an omega male, is it a wise strategy to confront the alpha of a group? Or would it be wiser to ruminate on your low status, get depressed (in metabolic/energy level) and feel no need to get caught a fight, prolonging your lifespan – possibly long enough to successfully mate?
On the flipside, it comes down to potential, as a TED talk called Can Depression Be Good For You? elucidates;
The way I would explain it is this: if you had no potential, you’d be a happy idiot. Those people are self-actualized doing regular things. We all know the stereotype and anecdotes we’ve met. The stereotype of an unhappy smart person would be the reverse, a person who is low status with the potential to be higher. The depression is compelling them to ruminate on the circumstances which led to this ranking and possibly problem-solve some solutions without the anger that would lead to stupidity or almost certain death in the state of nature.
“Depression has long been seen as nothing but a problem,” says Paul Andrews, an assistant professor of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster. “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.”