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Letters to the Editor |

Clinical Depression Is a Disease State, Not an Adaptation

Robert Feder, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2001;58(11):1084. doi:.
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In his recent ARCHIVES article, Nesse1 discusses depression as a possible evolutionary adaptation. Dr Nesse presents some interesting arguments that in certain stressful situations, the symptoms of depression can help increase the likelihood of an individual's survival. One cardinal symptom of depression that Dr Nesse fails to discuss, however, is suicidal behavior.

In Darwinian analyses, natural selection will tend to favor behavioral traits that will maximize an individual's reproductive capacity.2 It is hard to imagine a behavior that is less likely to maximize an individual's contribution to his or her gene pool than suicide. There is no way that suicidal thoughts or behaviors can lead to a person's surviving any situation. Even if suicidal behavior in an individual somehow conveyed an advantage to the species as a whole, genetically determined suicidal behavior would rapidly be selected against as individuals who displayed it killed themselves before being able to increase the frequency of these "suicidal" genes in the population by reproducing.


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