Today’s Mental Health Disorders Were Instincts in Past?

Jeffrey P. Kahn, M.D., author and psychiatrist, wrote in his book Origins of Anxiety & Depression, that many of the things we consider disorders today may have been ways that our early ancestors dealt with survival in the world of their times. By taking the actions of those with these conditions, they can be backed to those times and become understandable ways that they could have been coping mechanisms or ways that the times may have dictated.

The five modern disorders that he looks into are:

  • panic disorder
  • social anxiety
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • atypical depression
  • melancholic depression

Investigating each of these in more detail reveals ways that the modern issues that psychologists and therapists are counseling for may be instinctual behaviors from our ancient ancestors. In those days, they were beneficial ways of dealing with life, and for some modern people, they have become amplified to where they cause angst and anxiety

Panic Disorder

These seemingly involuntary attacks occur in many people, but more commonly in women. The belief is that they occur because of some fear that some form of recurring type of attack is due to happen again.

This would have been a completely natural concern to have to our ancestors with the fear of attacks or wars or even unjust rulers. In other ways, it could be the fear of crime in an impoverished land or in a bad community even in current times. This fear that something bad could happen may have been how prehistoric people kept prepared to protect their families in times when this occurrence did happen. In modern civilized society, it becomes less of a problem, but the panic attacks can translate to the more modern concerns of these people.

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Social Anxiety

These traits that leave many people fearful of being singled out in a social situation, may have prevented people from challenging the leaders of their tribe or kingdom as was the situation generations ago. This would have benefited them in those times when there was a formal hierarchy of social ranking.

In these more modern times, with less structured social ranking, and the freedom that many have to move up the social ranks, the instinct may cause them struggles. As they move to improve their standing, their inner instinct may be encouraging them to keep their distance and not challenge those higher ranked, whether socially or in am employment situation.


His belief is that these OCD traits and behaviors could stem from what would have been a mother’s instinctual way of preparing for protecting their young. By maintaining a safe and clean surroundings, they are keeping the life for their children as safe as can be.

Many of these behaviors are even visible in other species where mothers take care of their young in similar cleaning types of actions.

Again, this was a necessary step taken during ancient times before there was knowledge of germs, or the ability to live in conditions that could make it possible to take it to an extreme level in the way that many people do in today’s age. This disorder becomes a hinderance to those who have more severe cases, and has become a trait far removed from the initial drive to provide a safe home for their young.

Atypical Depression

This common type of depression in modern times may have originated from the living conditions that many ancestors did have to endure. For different peoples this could be different means, but in areas of dictator rule, or large numbers of oppressed people, this type of feeling could have dominated their thoughts.

Usually taking the shape of increased appetite and sleepiness in modern times, the ancestors may have gone through these times when there was little to look forward to or work towards, and could have evolved into the modern, more dominating type of disorder associated with many today.

Melancholic Depression

In our modern society, this is a severe form of depression that takes form in drastic withdrawal from day to day life, and becomes a large part of a major depressive disorder. Those suffering from this disorder are often completely consumed with the traits and behaviors that result.

This is widely considered an inherited condition, and the ways that this could have been a survival mechanism from our ancestors is in the way that their times dictated, similarly to the way that atypical depression did. In a highly structured, oppressed society, there are clear definitions between the leaders and those that serve them. These kinds of times may have given people the need to separate themselves from the work they were doing in serving the needs of others.

All of these mentioned disorders have the ability to take over a person’s life and make them prisoners within the confines of the disorder and its behaviors. By looking at how these similar behaviors could have been much more necessary under the living conditions of our ancestors, a better idea of what drives and creates them may assist in figuring out how to handle their treatment

For those with simple cases of these conditions, the need is probably less strong. For those with more severe and debilitating cases, the search for answers is far more necessary.

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