Depressed? Anxious? Aren’t we all?

I’m currently reading Zoltan Torey’s book The Crucible of Consciousness: An Integrated Theory of Mind and Brain. It’s fascinating and I will put up a review some time soon.

In the model he proposes for the self aware mind (consciousness) he deals with problems the mind has to confront.  Reflective awareness can lead to chronic anxiety, fretting and anticipation of danger. Human reflective awareness has given us unique and powerful abilities but they “are not altogether a blessing. Or at least blessing that have to be paid for very dearly indeed.”

Humans need “neurotic defences” to maintain mental equilibrium. One of these is the fashioning of belief systems – “psychoreligious constructions.” These make it difficult for our minds to represent objective reality. Rather they work to maintain our inner peace and sense of security. Our brain is strongly compromised as a data-processing instrument. We also have strong suppression mechanisms which help filter out “ego-threatening stimuli.”

The very abilities which have made us an intelligent species actually impair our reason. Rather than a rational species we are a rationalising one. This realisation is extremely important to the scientific endeavour – underling the importance of utilising evidence and testing our ideas against reality, rather than ideology.

The anxieties, obsessions and anticipation of danger can work together with the creation of erroneous belief systems and suppression mechanism to disrupt our mental health. I think we are now starting to realise that mental illness is much more common than we might like to admit. It’s more “normal.” And this model suggests why.

Futurity recently reported that people vastly underestimate and “underreport the amount of mental illness they’ve suffered when asked to recall their history years after the fact.” This came out of a “long-term tracking study of more than 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 32″ (see Depressed? Anxious? Aren’t we all?).

“If you start with a group of children and follow them their whole lives, sooner or later almost everybody will experience one of these disorders,” says Terrie Moffitt, the Knut Schmitt-Nielsen professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

Because self-reporting from memory is the basis for much that is known about the prevalence of mental disorders, anxiety, depression, and substance dependency may actually be twice as high as previously believed, according to new research.”

I guess we have come a long way as a society in thinking about mental illness. But we still have a way to go. If we can realise how mental illness arises naturally out of our unique possession of reflective awareness, of consciousness, perhaps we can be nmore acceptable of poeple who suffer from it. After all, none of us is immune. it’s very likely we will have bouts of such illness sometime in our lives.

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3 responses to “Depressed? Anxious? Aren’t we all?

  1. I’m largely in agreement here. The truth may hurt at times but it really does set people free. A warm and accepting faith community can play an important part in mental/emotional wellbeing — giving people hope and confidence to be themselves. Unfortunately there are also abusive/toxic sects that prey on the vulnerable.

    Awareness and critical evaluation of one’s own thought patterns is also useful for maintaining mental equilibrium. Expressing feelings rather than suppressing can be powerful – a recent listener article about”swearing therapy” was interesting. Role-playing is apparently also quite helpful.

    There was a beautiful TED talk by a neurologist who experienced a stroke and the critical (left?) side of her brain shut down, and her creative, connected, spiritual side came to the fore.

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  2. Yes, I have seen the video. And Steven Pinker has an interesting lecture of swearing and its role (one at Google, I think). It’s worth watching.

    As for critical evaluation of one’s own thoughts. This interests me because I have done a bit of Buddhist meditation. It’s quite therapeutic to meditate on one’s thoughts, and recognise them as thoughts (just thoughts) rather than reality. It has always been intriguing to speculate on who is “me”, my thoughts, or the observer of my thoughts. Zoltan Torey’s model is helping me to clarify that who circular argument.

    The model and his description of the evolution of the brain and language also helps me understand the basis of the (very simplistic) left brain/right brain argument.

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  3. I found this interesting study on the potential dangers of positive thinking. Being depressed, negative, or critical can be a good survival trait, when the situation warrants it. Unrealistic optimism was a major reason for the global credit bubble.

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