Does Depression Help Us Think Better?

By Jonah Lehrer

Why do people get depressed? At first glance, the answer seems obvious: the mind, like the flesh, is prone to malfunction. Once that malfunction happens — perhaps it’s an errant gene triggering a shortage of some happy chemical — we sink into a emotional stupor and need medical treatment. But this pat explanation obscures a lingering paradox of depression, which is that the mental illness is extremely common. Every year, approximately 7 percent of us will be afflicted by the god-awful mental state that William Styron described as a “gray drizzle of horror . . . a storm of murk.” Obsessed with our pain, we will retreat from everything. We will stop eating, unless we start eating too much. Sex will lose its appeal; sleep will become a frustrating pursuit. We will always be tired, even though we will do less and less. We will think a lot about death.

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