Individuals who struggle with depression often report difficulties with memory. They may lose track of deadlines at work or misremember conversations. They may enter a room and forget why they came there in the first place.
According to a study recently published this January in the Journal of Affective Disorders, people with a depressed mood hold onto negative thoughts longer than people without a depressed mood. These persistent negative thoughts “clutter” their brains, making it more difficult to remember things.
This research was conducted at the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth. To understand how depression impacts memory, the researchers examined 75 university students. Thirty of these students were classified as having depressive symptoms. Each participant was asked to respond to a sentence that contained either depressive (e.g. “I am sad” or “People don’t like me”) or neutral features. After viewing the sentence, the participants were instructed to remember a list of numbers.
People with depressive symptoms remembered 31 percent fewer numbers when the list was preceded by a sentence with depressive features. This was compared to both non-depressed individuals as well as depressed individuals who were given neutral sentences.
In other words, when depressed people were primed to think negative thoughts, they had a harder time remembering information.
“People with depression or even healthy people with a depressed mood can be affected by depressive thoughts,” said Center for BrainHealth principal investigator Bart Rypma, Ph.D., in a press release. “We have known that negative thoughts tend to last longer for those with depression. However, this study is unique in showing that, these thoughts, triggered from stimuli in the environment, can persist to the point that they hinder a depressed person’s ability to keep their train of thought.”
How can people with depression improve their memory?
How can people with depression make room in their thoughts and improve their memory?
Cognitive behavioral therapy — or a therapeutic technique that encourages patients to recognize and regulate depressive thoughts — may be one solution. Another possibility is cognitive remediation, a technique that involves performing tasks designed to refine cognitive functions including memory. Mindfulness meditation — a form of meditation that trains people to accept their thoughts without dwelling on them — may also improve memory retention in depressed individuals.
In the meantime, scientists will continue to research how both clinical and subclinical depression influences the brain’s ability to function. With this knowledge, they may be able to develop new treatments and refine old ones.
The Sovereign Health Group’s mental health treatment program uses innovative, evidence-based techniques to treat patients who struggle with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental and behavioral health disorders. Our unique brain wellness program involves evidence-based cognitive exercises that are designed to improve clarity of thought and mental well-being. For more information, contact us at our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her Master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. email@example.com.