Depressed people may hold onto their sadness, claims study

It can be incredibly difficult to step out of the shadow of depression

It can be incredibly difficult to step out of the shadow of depression

People who suffer depression may end up holding onto their sadness rather than following ways to decrease it, according to an academic study.

Researchers from the Hebrew University wanted to find out the direction in which depressed people attempted to regulate their emotions, making the assumption that people with depression would take steps to reduce their sadness. However, in a series of experiments, they discovered that the opposite was true.

Depressed people would look at happy images as much as non-depressed people would. But when shown sad images, the depressed study participants chose to view the sad images again more than non-depressed people did. The same was with choice of music: depressed people were more likely to listen to sad music (62% of depressed people compared with 24% of non-depressed participants chose to listen to the sad music clip). In the third experiment, people were given a cognitive tool to reappraise their emotional response to a stimulus – and again the depressed people increased their sadness by choosing to use reappraisal to increase their emotional reactions to sad images.

Study author Yael Millgram said: “We were surprised that depressed participants made such choices although they were aware of how these types of music would make them feel… Contrary to what we might expect, depressed people sometimes choose to behave in a manner that increases rather than decreases their sadness. This is important because it suggests that depressed individuals may sometimes be unsuccessful in decreasing their sadness in daily life because, in some sense, they hold on to it.”

The next step for the researchers is to discover why and how that is.

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