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Holtzheimer, P.E. (2009). Depression as a Mechanism for Terminating Separation Distress: A Critical Review. Neuropsychoanalysis, 11(1):67-70.

(2009). Neuropsychoanalysis, 11(1):67-70

Depression as a Mechanism for Terminating Separation Distress: A Critical Review Related Papers

Paul E. Holtzheimer

Douglas Watt and Jaak Panksepp present a very thorough, thoughtful, and thought-provoking review of the neurobiology and treatment of depression. Based on this review, the authors propose an overarching hypothesis of depression as an evolutionarily selected-for mechanism in mammals for terminating separation distress. This hypothesis is offered as a potential explanatory model for the available and diverse neurobiological findings in depression research; furthermore, the authors hope this model can serve as a guide for future investigation into the neurobiological underpinnings of depression and antidepressant-treatment development.

The authors' argument relies on several premises:

1.   Separation-distress behaviors (e.g., crying) in response to social loss occur in most mammals, including humans.

2.   Mechanisms to inhibit separation-distress behaviors exist in mammals.

3.   These mechanisms have been evolutionarily selected for since the inability to inhibit such behaviors in infants would have an untenable survival/reproductive cost.

4.   In susceptible individuals, these inhibitory mechanisms—what the authors refer to as a fundamental shutdown process—are not properly regulated, leading to a protracted abnormal state; this protracted state is what is clinically referred to as depression.

The authors provide support for this argument by citing a wealth of data relating depression to social loss/stress.

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