New research has unveiled an intriguing phenomenon: individuals who have successfully emerged from a major depressive episode tend to dwell on negative information for extended periods compared to their counterparts who have not experienced depression. This cognitive inclination could heighten their susceptibility to relapse. The study, which encompassed a meta-analysis of multiple research endeavors, has suggested that the conventional approach of solely minimizing the processing of negative information may not be efficacious in preventing relapse. Rather, it proposes that strategies aimed at augmenting the processing of positive information could be advantageous.
The emphasis on positive facets appears to be as pivotal as the reduction of negative factors in averting relapse, as articulated in this study.
Individuals who have triumphed over a significant depressive episode frequently allocate more time to pondering negative information and less to contemplating positive aspects in comparison to those who have not encountered such episodes. This pattern may, according to research published by the American Psychological Association, elevate their vulnerability to relapse.
Lead author Alainna Wen, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar at the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, elaborates on these findings, stating, “Our findings suggest that people who have a history of depression spend more time processing negative information, such as sad faces, than positive information, such as happy faces, and that this difference is greater compared to healthy people with no history. Because more negative thinking and mood and less positive thinking and mood are characteristic of depression, this could mean that these individuals are at a greater risk for having another depressive episode.”
The research has been documented in the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.
Prevalence and Impact of Major Depression
Major depression stands as one of the most prevalent mental disorders in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2020, approximately 21 million U.S. adults reported experiencing at least one episode of major depression, constituting 8.4% of the U.S. population. Defined as a period lasting at least two weeks marked by a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, major depression can impede or restrict a person’s ability to carry out fundamental life activities.
Notwithstanding the existence of well-established treatments for depression, relapse rates for major depressive disorder remain distressingly high, as emphasized by Wen. More than half of individuals who undergo a first-time major depressive episode will subsequently grapple with additional episodes, often relapsing within two years of recuperation. Consequently, further insight is imperative into the risk factors associated with major depressive disorder to ameliorate treatment and avert relapse.
Study Methodology and Findings
In this research, scholars conducted a meta-analysis encompassing 44 studies, involving 2081 participants with a history of major depressive disorder and 2285 healthy controls. All studies scrutinized participants’ response times to stimuli categorized as negative, positive, or neutral. In some instances, participants were presented with either a joyful, sorrowful, or neutral human countenance and instructed to press distinct buttons in response. In other scenarios, participants reacted to positive, negative, or neutral words.
As a collective, healthy participants exhibited more prompt responses to emotional and non-emotional stimuli in comparison to participants with a history of depression, irrespective of whether these stimuli were positive, neutral, or negative. However, individuals who had previously experienced major depressive disorder allocated more time to processing negative emotional stimuli as opposed to positive stimuli, when compared to controls. While discernible disparities surfaced among healthy controls concerning the time spent processing positive versus negative emotional stimuli in contrast to individuals in remission from major depression, these distinctions did not emerge when comparing the time allotted to processing negative versus neutral or positive versus neutral stimuli.
In sum, the outcomes suggest that individuals with recurrent major depressive disorder not only exhibit reduced control over the information they process in comparison to their healthy counterparts, but they also manifest a heightened inclination to focus on negative information at the expense of positive or neutral information, as posited by Wen.
“The current findings have implications for the treatment of depression,” remarks Wen. “Focusing exclusively on curtailing the processing of negative information may prove insufficient in averting depression relapse. Instead, patients may derive benefit from strategies aimed at amplifying the processing of positive information.”
Reference: “Biased cognitive control of emotional information in remitted depression: A meta-analytic review” by Alainna Wen, Ethan Ray Fischer, David Watson, and K Lira Yoon, published on August 21, 2023, in the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science, DOI: 10.1037/abn0000848.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Depression Relapse Risk
What does the research reveal about the impact of past depression?
The research indicates that individuals who have recovered from a major depressive episode tend to dwell on negative information for longer periods compared to those without a history of depression. This cognitive trend could increase their risk of experiencing a depressive relapse.
How was the study conducted?
The study involved a meta-analysis of 44 studies, including 2081 participants with a history of major depressive disorder and 2285 healthy controls. These studies examined participants’ response times to various emotional stimuli, including positive, negative, and neutral information.
What is the prevalence of major depression in the United States?
In 2020, approximately 21 million U.S. adults, constituting 8.4% of the population, reported experiencing at least one episode of major depression, making it one of the most common mental disorders in the country.
Why is preventing relapse in major depression important?
Despite established treatments for depression, relapse rates for major depressive disorder remain high. More than 50% of individuals who experience their first major depressive episode will have subsequent episodes, often within two years of recovery. Preventing relapse is crucial for improving treatment outcomes.
What are the implications of the study’s findings?
The study suggests that merely focusing on reducing the processing of negative information may not be sufficient to prevent depression relapse. Instead, strategies aimed at increasing the processing of positive information may be beneficial in the treatment and prevention of major depressive disorder.
Where was the research published?
The research findings were published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science on August 21, 2023, with the reference DOI: 10.1037/abn0000848.
More about Depression Relapse Risk
- Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science – The publication where the research findings were published.
- National Institute of Mental Health – Provides information on mental health issues, including major depression statistics in the United States.