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The Depths
Cover of The Depths
The Depths
The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic
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Why are we losing the fight against depression? In this groundbreaking work, psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg explains that despite advances in pharmaceutical science, progress has been hampered by our fundamental misunderstanding of depression as a psychological or chemical defect. Instead, Rottenberg introduces a surprising alternative: that depression is a particularly severe outgrowth of our natural capacity for emotion; 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. Weaving together experimental and epidemiological research, clinical observations, and the voices of people who have struggled with depression, The Depths offers a bold new account of why depression endures—and points the way toward new paths for treatment.
Why are we losing the fight against depression? In this groundbreaking work, psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg explains that despite advances in pharmaceutical science, progress has been hampered by our fundamental misunderstanding of depression as a psychological or chemical defect. Instead, Rottenberg introduces a surprising alternative: that depression is a particularly severe outgrowth of our natural capacity for emotion; 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. Weaving together experimental and epidemiological research, clinical observations, and the voices of people who have struggled with depression, The Depths offers a bold new account of why depression endures—and points the way toward new paths for treatment.
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About the Author-
  • Jonathan Rottenberg is an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, where he is Director of the Mood and Emotion Laboratory. His work has been covered by Scientific American, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Time. Rottenberg lives in Tampa, Florida.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 16, 2013
    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.” Agent: Lisa Adams, the Garamond Agency.

  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2013
    A call for a new "diagnostic and therapeutic" paradigm for treating depression by framing it as a mood disorder rather than a disease. Rottenberg (Psychology/Univ. of South Florida; co-editor: Emotion and Psychopathology: Bridging Affective and Clinical Science, 2007) calls attention to the epidemic increase of depression--not only in America, but also in England, Canada and Italy. With more than 15 percent of the population affected by depression, he writes, it is threatening to become "a preeminent public health menace." Despite the massive resources devoted to research and treatment of the disease, "it is striking people at younger and younger ages." Drawing on his own experience as director of the USF Mood and Emotion Laboratory and as someone who himself underwent a multiyear bout of deep depression, he points to disappointing progress in the development of effective antidepressants over the past 60 years, when the rate of recurrence is factored in. The author explains that mood serves an evolutionary function that we share with other mammals; it helps to tune behavior "to situational requirements" in ways that we are mostly unaware of. From an evolutionary perspective, an ordinary sad mood "makes people more deliberate, skeptical and careful in how they process information from their environment." In Rottenberg's opinion, our cultural emphasis on being upbeat can be counterproductive. The human capacity for reflection can derail this semiautomatic process when we seek to enhance pleasurable upbeat moods and worry about being depressed. By shifting our attention to our own mental processes, we risk losing sight of broader goals. Rottenberg does not dismiss the benefits of talk therapy and medications to treat depression or deny the role of genetic predisposition. His laudable aim is to broaden the discussion. An important contribution to his stated aim of promoting "an adult national conversation about depression."

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    January 1, 2014
    Why is depression so prevalent and persistent? Why is the disorder so difficult to treat? Rottenberg, a professor of psychology who has suffered from depression, addresses those broad questions from a dual perspective as scientist and patient. Acknowledging that there is no single cause of the depression epidemic, he pushes for a new evolutionary model of mood and theorizes about the potential advantages of negative moods. For example, a low or sad mood might confer greater skepticism, deliberation, and caution in processing information. Mild depression could possibly function as an emotional cocoon that offers an opportunity for a time-out to ascertain what is going wrong. Rottenberg reminds readers that human beings are not wired for bliss. Evolution is fixated on survival and reproduction. Is it conceivable that mild forms of depression aid in achieving those evolutionary goals as crucially as happiness does? In this provocative presentation of the natural history and evolution of depression, the bottom line is, strangely, both deflating and hopeful: Low mood is both inescapable and sometimes useful. (Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

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The Depths
The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic
Jonathan Rottenberg
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