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Monday, December 25, 2006
did antidepressants depress japan?

For 1,500 years of Japanese history, Buddhism has encouraged the acceptance of sadness and discouraged the pursuit of happiness -- a fundamental distinction between Western and Eastern attitudes. The first of Buddhism's four central precepts is: suffering exists. Because sickness and death are inevitable, resisting them brings more misery, not less. ''Nature shows us that life is sadness, that everything dies or ends,'' Hayao Kawai, a clinical psychologist who is now Japan's commissioner of cultural affairs, said. ''Our mythology repeats that; we do not have stories where anyone lives happily ever after.'' Happiness is nearly always fleeting in Japanese art and literature. That bittersweet aesthetic, known as aware, prizes melancholy as a sign of sensitivity.

This traditional way of thinking about suffering helps to explain why mild depression was never considered a disease. ''Melancholia, sensitivity, fragility -- these are not negative things in a Japanese context,'' Tooru Takahashi, a psychiatrist who worked for Japan's National Institute of Mental Health for 30 years, explained. ''It never occurred to us that we should try to remove them, because it never occurred to us that they were bad.''

the animal self

Indeed, however elaborate an argument we humans may have with our own biology, we are each of us to some extent locked into a personality type, a consistent way of being without which we would each be, in a sense, unrecognizable to ourselves or others. The oft-heard comment "Hey, that's not like you" is a tacit acknowledgment of your recognizably consistent way of being. If, in other words, someone were to be entirely flexible and unpredictable in their behavior, were able to respond with any one of the full palette of behavioral responses in any given circumstance, they would be not only, as Andy Sih put it, "scary to be around," but they would also be someone of whom you could say, they have no personality...

Alison Bell has done related experiments with sticklebacks. It has long been clear to researchers that fish that have lived for many generations in the proximity of dangerous predators are less bold and less aggressive than animals that have lived relatively risk-free. What Bell discovered is that those cautious tendencies outlast the presence of risk, even by a generation. When she moved sticklebacks who had always lived in a high-risk environment into a low-risk environment, she found that not only did they retain their cautious tendencies, but so did their offspring. Even fish raised from birth in a low-risk environment behave more fearfully if raised by a particularly vigilant father from a high-risk background.

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