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Is depression normal in human beings? A critique of the evolutionary perspective

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To the evolutionary biologist human beings at every stage of their development represent ‘compromises’ in their continual adaptation to their changing environments. Using a neo-Darwinian perspective, evolutionary psychiatrists such as Randolph Nesse (Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan) argue that while natural selection does not shape disease itself, it does shape human traits and therefore vulnerability to disease. Accordingly, for him, depression is a human emotion which may represent a surviving positive response and is therefore not always pathological. This critique examines Nesse's principal arguments and reveals a number of weaknesses in those arguments. The article concludes with a review of the therapeutic and preventive implications of his evolutionary perspective on depressive states as well as some implications for mental health nurses.
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Keywords: aetiology of depression; depression; evolutionary biology; evolutionary psychiatry

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2002

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