Recent research suggests that depression may not be a disorder, but an evolutionary adaptation which brings certain mental and emotional advantages. Depressed people often report persistent rumination, which allows them to analyze complex social dilemmas more effectively, according to the Virginia Commonwealth University. Depressed people also tend to report social isolation, and reduced pleasure in sex and other activities, suggesting that depression helps people to avoid distraction so they can focus on their problems more intensely.

Ruminating, or focusing intensely on one's problems, is persistent in depressed people, and they often have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time. Depressed people are better at solving social problems, through better analysis of the costs and benefits of the different options, according to a study published in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. A series of studies published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology explored how sadness impacts our accuracy in making social judgments. Accuracy was higher among sad participants performing a task requiring a judgment while simultaneously performing a different distracting mental task.

Another study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that depressed subjects used individual characteristics in evaluating a person, even when told to assess the person in predefined categories. Non-depressed subjects relied on predefined categories in making personal judgments. Depressed subjects showed a willingness to engage in effortful analysis of social information, as a result of experiencing a lack of control over life events.

A common symptom of depression is social isolation. Solitary analysis is often a helpful approach in solving complex problems, but it requires slow, sustained thinking, so social distractions would interfere with problem solving. Depressed people are less able to cooperate in groups, as reported in one study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion. Depression's main function may be to minimize distraction and allow prolonged analysis of problems by giving the issue prioritized access to processing resources in the brain. This process reduces your desire to engage in distracting activities like sex and social activities, and produces changes in the brain causing you to avoid distractions.

Despite evidence that depression is a useful problem-solving tool, depression can obviously be very harmful. About 8 percent of Americans suffer from clinical depression, also known as major depression, and up to 15 percent of clinically depressed people commit suicide in any given year, according to the US National Institute of Mental Health. For the vast majority of depressed people, this condition is short-lived and may repeat itself throughout life. Normal depression in people often causes difficulty performing everyday activities, and problems focusing on work. They tend to isolate themselves socially, and are lethargic. They often lose interest in pleasurable activities such as eating and sex. Some can experience chronic, low-level, lifelong depression, and may experience intermittent suicidal thoughts.

Meditation can help you to overcome the negative cycle of thoughts associated with depression, and reduce your vulnerability to stressful emotions, allowing you to focus on the problems you face more effectively. It helps to boost your levels of mood-lifting brain chemicals, such as serotonin, GABA and endorphins, as well as blocking your brain's stress receptors and decreasing the production of the stress-causing hormone cortisol. Taking supplements such as 5-HTP and GABA can help to block cortisol and increase the production of these mood-lifting neurotransmitters.

Considering all of the evidence for depression as an evolutionary adaptation, and the previously unknown facts revealed by experts like Paul W. Andrews and J. Anderson Thomson Jr., Dr. Daniel Amen and others over the last decade, depression may be less of a mental illness than a highly specialized adaptive brain function. If we can learn to be aware of our thoughts, and control our response to them by using the tools available, perhaps these experiences can be turned into a benefit.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Locklear is a researcher and consultant with 30 years experience, studying health, nutrition, and human behavior. He has been president of the Global Peace Project since 1986, and he administrates the website as part of the Global Peace Project Educational Outreach Program. You can also find him on The Total Health Blog.