Nearly every depressed person is assured by doctors, well-meaning friends and family, the media, and ubiquitous advertisements that the underlying problem is a chemical imbalance. Such a simple defect should be fixable, yet despite all of the resources that have been devoted to finding a pharmacological solution, depression remains stubbornly widespread. Why are we losing this fight?
In this humane and illuminating challenge to defect models of depression, psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg argues that depression is a particularly severe outgrowth of our natural capacity for emotion. In other words, it is a low mood gone haywire. Drawing on recent developments in the science of mood-and his own harrowing depressive experience as a young adult-Rottenberg explains depression in evolutionary terms, showing how its dark pull arises from adaptations that evolved to help our ancestors ensure their survival. Moods, high and low, evolved to compel us to more efficiently pursue rewards. While this worked for our ancestors, our modern environment-in which daily survival is no longer a sole focus-makes it all too easy for low mood to slide into severe, long-lasting depression.
Weaving together experimental and epidemiological research, clinical observations, and the voices of individuals who have struggled with depression, The Depths offers a bold new account of why depression endures-and makes a strong case for de-stigmatizing this increasingly common condition. In so doing, Rottenberg offers hope in the form of his own and other patients' recovery, and points the way towards new paths for treatment.
Although clinical depression dominates contemporary culture's discussion of mental illness, it is often treated as a chemical defect or a state that individuals can overcome through attitude changes. Drawing on epidemiological evidence and his own experimental research, psychologist Rottenberg urges that we understand depression through the science of mood, or "affective science." In this stimulating book that synthesizes research and memoir Rottenberg himself battled depression he observes that mood science provides insights into why humans experience low mood the defining feature of depression and allows us to explore its causative forces. He calls attention to the many triggers of low mood group separation, stress, death of loved ones arguing that humans share a mood system with other mammals that alerts us to the ways social loss can jeopardize our survival; thus, a low mood forces a reassessment of the best course of action in a given situation. Focusing on this evolutionary understanding of depression, he concludes that low mood has benefits both for diagnosing depression and for overcoming it: "Positive moods are not only a sign... that we are on the right track and moving toward evolutionarily favored goals;... we need to understand how experience of well-being might make people do things that keep them well."