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What If Mental Health Experiences Were An Evolutionary Tool, And Not What We Think It Is?

According to some statistics anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the world has been categorized to experience depression in one form or another. It is estimated that around 970 million people have mental health experiences across the globe.

Now that COVID19 has appeared on the world stage, mental health has become a prominent concern. Many are dealing with feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression, and other cognitive responses. But, what if our understanding of mental health and our current shortsighted clinical approach to categorizing them needs to be revisited? Evolutionary science might be an extremely valuable partner in helping us navigate this new territory.

For most, depression tends to be defined as a  phenomenon that occurs within someone. It tends to not be explored as a manifestation of outward culture. This is not to oversimplify the biochemical components that many might experience from when they take such drugs like Lithium, (not this is also not an endorsement for taking pharmaceutical drugs).

Mental health experiences tend to be explored in either a clinical setting or in psychological terms. And much like the state of technology, as our culture and context changes, so do our understanding of these things. New research is emerging that claims that mental health phenomena such as depression-and by extension anxiety and other related experiences are evolutionary tools and strategies that we should take seriously.

The article goes on to explore the possibility of depression being used in workplace settings. I would make a claim much further than this – that employers need to seek out employees for the particular skills of harnessing the positive and beneficial aspects of depression and/or anxiety.

This is not to undermine the clinical or psychological claims or work in these fields. It is merely a new perspective coupled with research, that gives us new ways of looking at what we tend to interpret as limitations. If someone struggles with depression or anxiety and they are able to use these experiences to enable them with the capability of analyzing issues within a company, or another context that might require a keen observer-these could very well be the people that employers need to take seriously.

Depression and anxiety do not exist within a vacuum. They are mirrors of a society that needs to change. Within the demands of modernist society: the Industrial Revolution, post World War I and post-World War II society began to require people to justify the need to be working all hours in a day. Western society now celebrates this form of worth ethic as a subculture. There are even hashtags that encourage what is known as, the hustle culture. Although there are new narratives that are also offering alternatives – among the millennials, the hustle culture seems to be the new normal.



Mental health experiences like depression and anxiety are evolving ways of saying we have got society all wrong, and we need to change it. Rather than looking at depression as something to be ashamed of, what if we need to begin asking harder questions as a global community? What if depression and anxiety is a way in which we can begin talking about the stigma of mental health?

We tend to feel guilty if we cannot operate at peak capacity, and even though no employer would agree with this on the surface, there is an expectation that the employee is meant to work ad infinitum.  This is not to minimize the importance of therapeutic solutions, It is meant to help aid human progress and our personal understanding And quite simply how we may have got the mental health conversation wrong.


One of the reasons that depression should be an adaptation rather than a malfunction is found in the 5HT1A receptor— This particular receptor binds to serotonin, which tends to be the target of current antidepressant medications.

Pharmaceutical companies are now targeting this particular receptor because there has been researching that demonstrates without this receptor few were depressive symptoms in response to stress emerged.
One of the major benefits of trying to target for depression in a work or personal environment could be that depressed people tend to explore their problems through rumination. They do not have difficulty thinking about the details of the issues.

These highly analytical skills could be used to deconstruct complex problems – which can be very productive. If obsessive rumination had long-term harmful effects, as many clinicians assume, then depression would be “slower to resolve when people are given interventions that encourage rumination.” Depression is simply nature’s way of communicating that there are complex issues that need to be solved.


Anxiety is depressions, quirky cousin. Anxiety does work well with depression, but they do not work together all the time. Anxiety could also be perceived from a different angle. This could also be an evolutionary tool, in that, it holds up a mirror to a society celebrates performativity and perfection. To minimize the role of anxiety is to justify the presence of those pressures that caused the very anxiety that drives people‘s behaviors.

The attempt to make others happy to diminish the feeling of anxiety is not an indictment on the anxious person; it is an indictment on the fact that we have encouraged a society that we must somehow please our employer, spouse,  and friend. Anxiety exposes the pejorative side of living in a transactional society.

We must begin to take seriously that mental health says a lot more about what we value as a culture in our current place in history. We must not shy away, shame, or devalue those who are experiencing mental health phenomena. To do so is to the detriment of human progress.

We must be open to exploring new ways of seeing bio-cognitive experiences of reality. The psychological world must also not be too quick to rely on categories to explain away functional behavior that evolution has given to us. If we do this, we do this at our own peril.

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Find out more here:

What If Mental Health Experiences Were An Evolutionary Tool, And Not What We Think It Is?


George Elerick has been studying human behavior for over 15 years. His fascination with what makes humans do what they do has driven his sociological curiosity to create social experiments to expose the ideas that drive humans to do what they do. Part behavioral consultant, part social theorist and all investigator, George has worked internationally 🌎 with universities, community groups, governments and more to uncover the human mind. From working with consumer brands as a behavioral marketing consultant to leading groups into the far reaches of Southern India, he has had the opportunity to work closely with communities from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds for human behavioral research. He is constantly searching for the 'Why' that guides us all. When George is not busy speaking, you might find him rock-climbing 🧗🏻‍♂️somewhere or searching out a new hobby to try. He also is a standup comedian, you can find him on the circuit. He lives in Los Angeles with his British wife and two kids.

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APA Reference
Elerick, G. (2020). What If Mental Health Experiences Were An Evolutionary Tool, And Not What We Think It Is?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 May 2020
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