May 19, 2024

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Past Depression Can Lead Patients to See a Different World

Invisible Aftermath: Past Depression Can Lead Patients to See a Different World

Invisible Aftermath: Past Depression Can Lead Patients to See a Different World

New research has found that individuals recovering from severe depression take longer to process negative information compared to positive data, as opposed to those without a history of depression.

This cognitive tendency may increase their risk of relapse.

This study, conducted through a meta-analysis of multiple studies, suggests that simply focusing on reducing the processing of negative information may not be an effective approach to preventing relapse.

Instead, bolstering strategies for processing positive information may be beneficial.



Invisible Aftermath: Past Depression Can Lead Patients to See a Different World


A study suggests that, for preventing relapse, focusing on the positive aspects may be just as important as reducing negative factors.

Individuals who have experienced severe depressive episodes often spend more time dwelling on negative information and pay less attention to the positive aspects when compared to those who have never experienced depression. A research report published by the American Psychological Association points out that this pattern could increase their risk of relapse.

“Our research findings indicate that individuals with a history of depression spend more time processing negative information, such as sad faces, compared to positive information, such as happy faces, and this difference is even more significant when compared to healthy individuals with no history of depression,” said Dr. Alainna Wen, lead author and postdoctoral researcher at the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Given that negative thinking and emotions are prevalent in depression while positive thinking and emotions are scarce, this might imply a higher risk of recurrence for these individuals.”

This research was published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.



The Prevalence and Impact of Severe Depression

Severe depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2020, approximately 21 million American adults reported experiencing at least one episode of severe depression, accounting for 8.4% of the total population. Severe depression is defined as at least two weeks of persistent low mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, which interferes with or limits a person’s ability to carry out major life activities.

Although treatment methods for depression have matured significantly, the recurrence rate of severe depression remains high, as stated by Dr. Wen. Over 50% of individuals experiencing their first severe depressive episode will have a recurrence in the days that follow, often within two years of recovery. Therefore, it is crucial to gain a deeper understanding of the risk factors involved in severe depressive disorders to improve treatment and prevent relapse.


Research Methods and Results

In this study, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 44 studies, involving 2,081 participants with a history of severe depression and 2,285 healthy controls. All studies examined participants’ reaction times to negative, positive, or neutral stimuli. In some cases, participants were presented with happy, sad, or neutral faces and were instructed to press different buttons accordingly. In other instances, participants responded to positive, negative, or neutral words.

As a group, healthy participants reacted more quickly to both emotional and non-emotional stimuli, whether they were positive, neutral, or negative, compared to individuals with a history of severe depression. However, participants who had experienced severe depression took longer to process negative emotional stimuli than positive stimuli when compared to the control group. While there was a significant difference in the time taken to process positive emotional stimuli compared to negative emotional stimuli between the healthy control group and the group in remission from severe depression, there was no significant difference in the time taken to process negative stimuli compared to neutral stimuli or positive stimuli compared to neutral stimuli.

The results of the study indicate that individuals with recurrent severe depression not only struggle more with controlling the information they process but also show a stronger inclination towards focusing on negative information rather than positive or neutral information.

Wen stated, “The current research findings have significant implications for the treatment of depression. Solely focusing on reducing the processing of negative information may not be sufficient to prevent depression relapse. Instead, patients may also benefit from strategies that enhance the processing of positive information.”



Invisible Aftermath: Past Depression Can Lead Patients to See a Different World

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Important Note: The information provided is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice.