Firstly, it has to said that 'How Depression Survived: The Evolutionary Basis of Depression' has many things to be said in it's favour. It is concise, succinct and written in such a way as to engage with a popular audience (as oppposed to an esoteric academic circle.) Personal anecdote as well as allusions to film and literary works are all juxtaposed nicely with citations of key scientic studies. Despite this and despite Dr. Keedwell engaging writing style I feel I can only award the book three stars as the thesis that it propounds I feel to be fundamentally flawed.
The book ultimately proved to be disapointing despite my high hopes for it. The book takes as it's starting point that due to mankinds evolutionary heritage it is reasonable to postulate that if Depression is a human universal and not a cultural construct then the roots of it's survival must be as a consequence of it's adaptive function, otherwise it would literally have been bred out of human existence.
The argument that the different mood disorders have their positive aspects is not new - books such as 'Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fuelled His Greatness,' 'The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between a Little Craziness and a Lot of Success in America' plus 'Touched by Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament' have all done likewise - but what is new is the focus upon evolutionary psychology as the key explanatory factor in this equation.
The difficulty I have with the book is not it's use of evolutionary psychology, which I regard as an interesting and novel way of looking at the issues, but that in trying to locate the adaptive function of 'Depression' in human evolution the author presupposes that the contours of the concept of 'Depression' can be agreed upon with any great clarity.
The author does attempt near the beginning of the book to differentiate between:- 1.'DEPRESSION' from what might be described as:- 2. Ordinary and transient 'SADNESS' and then to bifurcate the former into 'mild/moderate' vs 'severe' (or 'melancholic' vs 'non-melancholic') but this in my opinion leads the book into difficulties because as anyone who has read 'The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sadness into Depressive Disorder' will be able to tell you: there are real question marks as to the validity of this distinction.
The erroneous bifurcation upon which the book's thesis is predicated upon leads the author into a maze of his own misconceptions. Dr. Keedwell contends that the 'mild to moderate' end of the Depressive spectrum is, to use the jargon, 'adaptive' in evolutionary terms by virtue of the fact that it forces the sufferer to to take time out and take stock, subsequently a reassessment of life goals can be made and facilitation of greater insight brought forth.
The problem remains that the argument as to whether one can truly truly regard this form of 'mild to moderate' Depression as such or whether it would be better categorised as a normal response to stressors encountered in one's life - i.e as 'SADNESS' -is not dwelt upon in the book thereby fatally undermining the larger points raised. The sub-title of the book namely: 'the evolutionary basis of DEPRESSION' is thus a misnomer.
My advise for anyone wishing to look into the topic more deeply would be to read 'The Anti-Depressant Era' by David Healy and the aforementioned 'The Loss of Sadness.'
This book presents a compelling and intuitive argument for the seemingly paradoxical survival of Depression in humans. If Depression is truly disadvantageous, as it appears to be to anyone who has been touched by it, why has it survived over thousands of years of evolution to be the widespread afflication that it is today?
Dr. Keedwell refutes the idea that Depression is simply a maladaptive by-product of the modern Western World and argues that (in its mild to moderate forms) it confers some advantages to sufferers - namely that it forces them to stop and reassess potentially futile or damaging situations and, after recovery, can make people more sensitive, empathic and productive.
The book is an easy and engaging read and the ideas presented are supported by a nice balance of personal anecdotes and key scientific studies. Dr. Keedwell also makes clever use of analogies to illustrate how the same processes of evolution that have shaped our bodies, sometimes resulting in physical illness, apply to our minds. Anyone with an interest in understanding Depression or the evolution of human nature will enjoy this book.
It is not only an accessible and interesting read, it is almost a therapeutic literature. None of this 'fix-your-life-believe-in-yourself' nonsense, but a book that allows understanding of what is happening to you or to your closest. It convincingly demonstrates how depressive behaviours are common not only amongst humans, but the rest of mammals as well. It shows how we have adapted this biological need of seclusion and introspection into our culture and our rituals. Very few minor factual lapses, most probably the effects of a momentary lack of focus rather than the lack of knowledge, do not spoil the pleasure of reading.
In this well-written book, Paul Keedwell successfully bridges the divide between the educational thesis and populist "self-help".
Whilst presenting a new theory to explain why depression stubbornly persists across generations, cultures and geographies, he offers valuable insights to victims of this ubiquitous malaise by providing an explanation of the meaning behind their misery and indeed of potential benefits which may follow from it. He argues that we should be wary of labelling depression as a "disease", but consider it more as a natural response to stress which, on occasion, can be inappropriately pronounced.
Written in the style of essay-style chapters with an ongoing thread, Dr Keedwell constructs robust arguments for the positive sides of depression which serve both as a catalyst for debate within academia and as a comfort for the sufferer, helping in the understanding of the despair they are feeling. He writes from a position of authority on the subject as a practitioner and researcher of eminence and as a former casualty of depression himself.
I found this book enthralling and an easy-to-read new way of looking at depression and the positives which it can bring.
This is a confused book. I read it thinking that it might offer insights into my experiences with severe depressive illness - but it absolutely failed to do so. When the author talks about the advantages of "depression" he is basically referring to milder forms - forms which we can all relate to - and it doesn't take much reflection to recognise that a "mild depression" in response to stress in life is a normal human response - and not necessarily an unhealthy one. None of what he writes addresses true "depressive illness" which generally occurs with no identifiable triggers. It's pretty badly written - doesn't offer any intelligent insights and coming from a doctor who is supposedly a "mood expert" it's pretty poor. I don't understand why it has such good reviews! I recommend Kay Redfield Jamison's work - her work is more original and far more intelligent.