Depression is a significant risk factor for suicide. It sucks the joy out of life. Fortunately, most cases of depression are treatable with readily available medicine. And both therapy and new medicines like psychedelic drugs can help more difficult cases. A rather depressing (pun intended) report just surfaced about negative thoughts and the risk of depression or, more specifically, the risk of going back into depression after recovery from a depressive episode.
Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
We all know folks who are constantly upbeat. No matter how difficult life is they take the “glass half full” approach and focus on what is promising, already accomplished, and good. And we all know folks for whom the glass is half empty. They are always focusing on potential difficulties, recent defeats, how hard a task is, and what they believe they have failed to accomplish. We might have suspected what researchers recently discovered but now there is proof. Folks who have recovered from a depressive episode who continue to focus on the negative are at greater risk of falling back into clinical depression.
Depression is a disorder of mood. It makes a person feel sad and lose interest in things. It affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Normal activities of daily life become a chore and in severe cases it feels like life is not worth living. While sadness and a sense of hopelessness are hallmarks of depression, so are loss of interest in the normal things of life and irritability, frustration, and outbursts of anger. Depressed people may sleep all the time or not sleep well. Their thinking is slowed and they have trouble concentrating. Guilt, a sense of worthlessness, and constantly thinking of past failures and blaming oneself are common in depression. Many time chronic aches and pains have their roots in depression and when depression is severe and unending the risk of suicide goes up.
What You Think About Affects How You Feel
A study reported by the American Psychological Association looked at people who had recovered from a major depressive episode. The researchers looked at whether a person tended to focus on positive things like success in a task or simply happy thoughts or things like how hard a task might be and generally sad thoughts. The concern was based on the fact that half of people who have an initial major depressive episode and recover have another one within about two years. The researchers were looking for cues as to how to prevent relapses into more depression.
The most salient finding was that even after a person had gotten better after a major depressive episode, they were far more likely than the average (non-depressed) person to focus on negative rather than positive things. People who had recovered from depression were presented with images or suggestions and asked if these were positive or negative. Folks who had been depressed and gotten better were still slower to make up their minds about things being positive or negative and were far more likely to label images, ideas, or suggestions as negative.
Is a Person Who Was Treated for Depression Really Better?
Something that occurred to us after reading through a report of this study was this. Were these people who had supposedly recovered from depression really better? We can assume that folks who were released from treatment for depression were probably sleeping better, back to work or engaged in normal activities of daily life, and no longer crying all of the time or constantly confused. However, these folks were more often than not predisposed to taking a negative view of things. Was this part of their depression? Was it merely a habit? If it was a habit, how could one break this habit so that the person’s fixation on the negative does not drag them back into a major depressive episode?
What Does This Research Tell Us about Depression?
One of the conclusions of the researchers in this study was that more attention needs to be paid to patients who have allegedly recovered from depression. Their worst symptoms are better and they are coping with life better. But they are still in a depressive mode of thinking. The brain in like a muscle. The more we use our brains the more the parts that are used grow and strengthen. Depressive people are often “practicing” depressive thinking and thus strengthening the negative focus in their lives. Something that the researchers noted was that these folks need to learn how to focus on positive things instead of simply trying to tune out negative thoughts. It would seem that a longer term focus on depressive patients is in order.
Something that the study did not address was patients whose depression got better with psychedelic medicines. It may well be that besides making people better faster, psychedelics may have resolve the issue of persistent negative thinking and therefore relapses!