Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world(1), but the causes of it can be varied.
There may be evidence that depression, like other mental illnesses, runs in families(2); others think there may be environmental factors(3) that contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing this disease. Other studies have shown that major life changes like a cross-country move or the death of a loved one can trigger depressive episodes(4).
Cognitive Dysfunction Is A Symptom Of Depression
What is consistent in cases of depression, regardless of cause, is the symptoms: feelings of emptiness and worthlessness, apathy and a loss of enjoyment in daily activities, and even, in severe cases, suicidal ideation and significant cognitive impairment(5).
That’s right – cognitive impairment.
According to new evidence, depression can “hijack” your brain to the point where the dysphoria you experience leaves little room for anything else, resulting in impaired memory, focusing problems, and reduced cognitive function.
The Downward Spiral Effect
According to a recent study(6), individuals struggling with depression are likely to focus what attention they have on “mood-congruent” information – they’re more likely to focus on negative thoughts, resulting in a “downward spiral” where they were less likely to think of or remember neutral or positive things.
In addition to this, other symptoms of depression – like fatigue and lack of motivation – can take a toll on a person’s ability to think clearly.
“Such deficits take a personal toll on these individuals with depressed mood and have societal consequences via loss of productivity and an increased rate of disability,” the study authors write. “It is likely that persistent thinking about effectively negative, mood congruent information… can impair real-world functioning for those with depressed mood.”
Battling Depression: A Significant Struggle
It can be hard for people who’ve never experienced depression to understand why depressed people can’t just reverse their negative thought patterns.
But for those with depression, simply “snapping out of it” isn’t always an option.
Some forms of psychotherapy for depression focus on ways of ingraining a process for derailing negative thought patterns(7). For many people with depression, this can take time, patience, and a lot of effort, but it is worth practising in the long run.
Other things that have been shown to help with depression include regular exercise(8) and meditation(9).
Patience Is Key
Because of the social stigma surrounding many mental illnesses, many people are reluctant to come forward about their experiences with depression – including sharing the full range of their symptoms with friend and family.
For those with a friend or relative struggling with depression, it’s important to remember that patience is key. Recovering from depression is like recovering from any other illness – it takes a combination of approaches, and there’s no such thing as an “overnight” cure.
But with support from not only healthcare professionals but also the people in their lives, there is hope for those suffering from depression to reverse the cognitive damage that depression can cause, and return to a more normal level of cognitive function.