How happy memories can help young people fight off depression
A new study from the University of Cambridge has demonstrated that young people can help to protect themselves against depression by recollecting positive memories and experiences.
Depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide, making it the leading cause of disability. The condition usually appears for the first time during adolescence, which is a critical period for brain development. Some major risk factors for depression include early life stress and adverse family circumstances.
“Mental health disorders that first occur in adolescence are more severe and more likely to recur in later life,” said study senior author Dr. Anne-Laura van Harmelen. “With child and adult mental health services underfunded and overstretched, it is critical that we identify new ways to build resilience, particularly in those adolescents who are most at risk for depression.”
The researchers theorized that reminiscing about past events during everyday life may help make young people more resilient to stress and depression. To investigate, the team examined data on hundreds of adolescents with an average age of 14 who were all at risk for depression.
The experts conducted trials to analyze how recalling positive memories may influence negative self-related thoughts and high morning levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which are both known to be signs of vulnerability to depression.
The study revealed that recalling specific positive memories was associated with fewer negative self-related thoughts and with lower levels of cortisol 12 months later. This means that, by recollecting happy memories, the youths reduced their susceptibility to depression over the course of one year.
“Our work suggests that ‘remembering the good times’ may help build resilience to stress and reduce vulnerability to depression in young people,’ said study lead author Adrian Dahl Askelund. “This is important as we already know that it is possible to train people to come up with specific positive memories. This could be a beneficial way of helping support those young people at risk of depression.”
The study is published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.