Hope and the antidepressant paradox

aus-sg170-4d-green-koala-2851-p I took this Jungian personality type, the 3 words about your favorite animal, color etc.  I pulled up a lot of sadness.  It may be that I’m optimistic in the particular way that courage is not the absence of fear, but the kicking its butt (To paraphrase Nelson Mandela).

It may be irresponsible to say “Hope is not the absence of sorrow, but triumph over it”.  The other day I was reading a news article that military suicides are down from a peak in 2012, and I saw the learned optimism project for the military at authentichappiness.org and this caused me to wonder whether “resiliency training” could paradoxically increase suicide, the way antidepressants do.  This effect is particularly seen in young people, which describes the military.  Suicide is also more common in the springtime and Mondays (somewhat on Sunday and Wednesday).  Men complete suicide more often than women.  Each of these is somewhat paradoxical (except Monday, but be patient).

NB:  Martin Seligman says the resiliency training works better the younger recruits are, so I looked closer at the press on military suicides, and the alarmists don’t tend to be statistically rigorous, i.e. failing to adjust comparison samples to match military demographics, and focusing on percent increases without raw numbers.

The first time I heard of the antidepressant/suicide paradox, it made total sense to me.  Depression is a defense mechanism against moving forward when your brain finds conditions to be emotionally painful.  I describe it as your motivation slowing down to match your mood.  When I am depressed, I feel like life is worthless and I can’t do anything about it.  Imagine changing the motivation without changing the mood.  Now life is worthless and I can do something about it.  (This is where Monday fits in, you have to get up and go whether or not you feel like it.)

So maybe learned optimism is as good as antidepressants, and that is the whole problem, because you’re under 25 and your frontal lobe is still under construction.  You can use these cognitive tools to get around your problems, but the problems are still waiting for you.

I personally find it a little mysterious that emotional, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms are distinct.  Those were the three columns my professor used in abnormal psychology, anyway.  She was happy with overlap and unevenness (I’m not so much).  But I think there’s an interesting potential correlation to the 3 legs of happiness Seligman presented in his TED talk (which I’ll try to remember to link to at the end.)

1.  Happiness, pleasure, or hedonism.  I would tend to say this is behavioral

2.  Flow.  This one was new to me as a component of positive psychology, but I think it’s cognitive

3. Eudaimonia, which he illustrated with Mother Teresa.  I’m going to call this emotional.

In the past I would have said Eudaimonia was joy, but maybe joy falls under flow.  It’s an important question to me due to the epigram “Men are that they might have joy.”  The aspect of flow they kept bringing up was that time stands still.  Hopefully they meant time ceases to chafe.  And maybe that’s the thing with God, maybe its not so much that He’s timeless, but it doesn’t bother Him.

Anyway, my hypothesis is that antidepressants (and spring, and testosterone) only fix happiness, but without flow or eudaimonia, this actually increases risk of suicide.  Put another way, hope without faith or charity is simply wishing, and can increase the gap between what is and what is wanted in a way that is dangerous.  Isn’t that the thing religion is criticized for, that it is unrealistic, and ignores who people really are?  At least, those are the criticisms I care about.  I’m an INTJ. 😉

So back to the original question.  Could my underlying sadness be part of my hopefulness?  I suppose courage has the same problem.  Yes, it’s good, but too much is madness.  Heh.  The other night we had a couple’s movie night, so we sometimes watch movies we wouldn’t watch with our kids.  That is how we wound up choosing The Equalizer, or as I think of it, Home Alone, the director’s cut.  So basically you have two professional killers squaring off, but one is a sociopath (oops, I mean person with ASPD) and the other wants to protect the weak from the ruthless (he is retired from some unnamed agency).  Their behavior is nearly identical, but we want the guy who is helping people to win.  But anyway, courage can look just like madness.  I suppose hope can as well.

Oh, right, the TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology

image: http://www.steveirwinstamps.co.uk/aus-sg170-4d-green-koala-2851-p.asp

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