Abandonmentseparation

When separated from their mother, juveniles show a protest-despair reaction (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980; Suomi, 1997). Protest is designed to engage in urgent searching and signal/communicate distress to elicit help and/or reunion; that is, the signal is designed to search for, and affect (call to) others/mother (Panksepp, 1998). However, for most mammals, a distressed-calling/searching, young individual on its own is in danger of attracting predators, being harmed by conspecifics, getting lost, and/or becoming exhausted. Better in such contexts to sit tight and wait for the parent to return. Despair (which seems to be rooted in downregulation of PA, among other things) (Panksepp, 1998) is thus designed to stop signalling and moving, and disengage approach or resource-seeking behaviour when not to do so might be dangerous. Despair is a form of behavioural and PA deactivation when protest does not work. In animals, despair is associated with heightened activity in the HPA system, and antidepressants can moderate it (Panksepp, 1998). The shifts from calm/secure, to awareness of mother's absence and anxious protest, to despair (shutting down PA) can be quick, and the intensity of the response in each phase can be in influenced by multiple factors (such as genes, age, and history of reunions). Moreover, the speed of return to a state of calm or safeness on reunion can be quick or slow.

There is evidence that these primitive strategies/mechanisms (behavioural and affect regulators) are still powerful templates for coping with separations, with evidence for genetic differences in susceptibility to the intensity of protest-despair responses (Suomi, 1997). Moreover, both animal and human studies show that depressed states are often triggered by social losses (Bowlby, 1980; Brown & Harris, 1978), and the physiology of protest-despair has many overlapping features with depression (Panksepp, 1998; Reite & Field, 1985). In line with others at the time, Gilbert (1984) suggested that although animals and humans can switch from protest to despair, some depressions may represent agitated searches and 'protest'. These people are likely to feel more sad and tearful, and to seek reassurance. Once despair (or defeat) is firmly activated, the experience is more one of retardation and feeling inwardly dead. Such folk are likely to say they wish they could feel sad or cry—to feel anything other than their flattened affect. Indeed, many clinicians have noted that while some patients are flat and need 'boosting up', others need calming down. However, while these two states (called A states and R states) (Gilbert, 1984) probably reflect different defensive strategies, and may have different regulators, they can also overlap and compete for expression; hence, there can be mixed states.

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