Depression’s Effects on Emotions

People who live with depression experience daily life through a different prism than do non-depressed people according to a recent study. The prism for the depressed person tangles negative emotions until they are so jumbled that the person finds it difficult if not impossible to untie them and see them as separate. Healthy folks can determine if what they are feeling is frustration or anger. Depressed people struggle to do that. This inability to discern individual negative emotions could contribute to the person’s sense of helplessness in overcoming depression.

The University of Michigan Study

The study was conducted through the University of Michigan and looked at emotional data recorded by 106 subjects between the ages of 18-40 years. Each subject was given an electronic device for recording their emotions dozens of times per day over the course of a week. The subjects could rate positive or negative emotions on a scale of one to four from a menu of emotions. Positive emotions on the menu were: active, alert, happy or excited. Negative emotions on the menu were: disgust, anger, sadness, guilt, frustration, shame or anxiety.

The Results

In assessing the data collected, researchers checked into how often a subject reported numerous emotions at the same time. They paid particular attention to instances when two emotions were repeatedly paired. This was seen as possibly indicating that the person was unable to differentiate between those two emotions. The study revealed that people who were depressed had much more trouble distinguishing between negative emotions as compared to healthy, non-depressed subjects. On the other hand, there did not appear to be any ill effects on the depressed person’s ability to identify and distinguish between positive emotions.

Why the Study Could Prove Helpful

Since the study showed that depressed people only have trouble discerning negative emotions, it may well be that by helping them to identify specific negative feelings counselors or therapists could help patients to overcome depression. When the person is enabled to figure out what it is they are experiencing, it could help them trace the feeling back to discover what triggered that negative emotion to start with. By doing so, the person has something concrete to deal with as opposed to a vague negative emotion dis-attached from any event.

Researchers have termed the ability to differentiate between feelings as emotional intelligence. Learning how emotional intelligence contributes to depression could be likened to a diagnostic tool. Anger, guilt, fear and sadness are everyday currency when depression strikes, but the depression makes it hard for the person to identify precisely what emotion they are experiencing. If people living with depression have a faulty emotional gauge, then mending the gauge could go a long way toward preventing future episodes.

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