Do you think there’s an upside to depression?

Emerging from the cataclysmic depression and anxiety which has ensnared me for much of this year, I am remembering research I once read about the positive effects of depression.

As someone who has suffered so much throughout her life, it’s a little difficult for me to open my mind to the fact that there may be possible benefits to depression. I think I’m with Sonja Lyubomirsky, who wrote in an article for Psychology Today:

I am in the midst of writing a new book (tentatively titled The Prepared Mind) and coincidentally I happen to be working right now on a short section called “Is There an Upside to Suffering?” My answer to this question, in a word, is “no.” There is value to sadness. There is value to recognizing one’s own (and the world’s) problems and ills. There is value to learning the lesson that life is not always good or fair. But most depression and suffering are agonizing, undeserved, and lead to nothing good.

What are these putative benefits? Sadness indicates problems for which solutions must be sought; there is some evidence that the depressed mind is less prone to stereotyping; and there have been some studies showing that people suffering depression think in a slower, more analytical style, leading to better decision-making.

I beg your pardon?! Better decision-making? I wish! I try never to make major decisions while depressed (the big ones – move house, sell the car, end your life, you know what I’m talking about) and I make numerous small yet poor decisions (“I’ll exercise tomorrow instead of today”; “I’ll just eat a bit more chocolate”; “I’ll cancel my coffee date, because I just don’t feel up to it”).

So far as I’m concerned, Lyubomirsky’s right: I can’t see the upside to depression, and the research which purports to demonstrate it is compromised by the fact that subjects are often put into a sad mood in a laboratory, for instance by listening to slow, sad music, as opposed to studying those with long-term clinical depression.

Still, I’m open to learning, so I want to know your opinion: is there an upside to depression? Or does it just suck?!

13 Comments

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13 responses to “Do you think there’s an upside to depression?

  1. I do not believe there is an upside to depression (unless you count how good it feels to come out of it). I have made some bad decisions while depressed and I firmly believe that one should not make important decisions while depressed. Thank you for bringing this up. While my mind is made up, it does give me something to think about.

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  2. It just sucks. It is an emotional cancer that eats at your mind from inside. On the other hand, I am now able to fit into size 30 jeans, which I have not been able to do from years. So there’s that. 🙂

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    • Um … is that due to weight loss or weight gain? We have a completely different sizing system down here in which size 30 would be at the largest end of the spectrum, even in the ‘obesity pride’ section of the shop.
      Isn’t it ridiculous (ok, I’ll downgrade that to ‘curious’) that a single term – “depression” – can cover such a huge range of symptoms? Hypersomnia; insomnia. Appetite increase; appetite decrease. The medicalization of mental health sometimes has a lot to answer for, in my opinion.

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  3. Pingback: Dearest Depression, How Great You Actually Are | Dearest Depression

  4. Pingback: A Reading from “Listening to Depression” | Journalling through Depression

  5. My whole life I’ve been a victim of mental illness, it runs in both sides of my family, guess I hit the genetic jackpot. So therefore I decided to get a degree in Psychology. As part of my studies we learned physiological psychology (parts of the brain and what their functions are specifically and how mental illness affects them). One thing we learned is that people who suffer severely from mental illnesses such as depression or PTSD or even bipolar disorder have a shrunken amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for how we feel and experience emotions. If you think about it as “people with mental illnesses’ emotional responses are limited or distorted” then I guess you could also say that “people with mental illnesses make better decisions because their decision making was made with a clearer and less emotional view.” So it could be accurate to say they have better decision making skills. But I do not consider this as an upside whatsoever. Decisions should be emotional. If you are deciding something you should be emotionally invested in the decision you are making for yourself.

    Just my opinion though. I love your blog, btw 🙂

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    • I also read some research a few years back – 2010, I think – which showed that the amygdala of people who had received distant/cold/authoritarian parenting in infancy and early childhood was underdeveloped compared to the rest of the population. A nice little nature/nurture nexus!
      Thank you for the compliment about the blog 🙂 I always appreciate your thoughtful comments!

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