Negative thinking: Are you lighting the depression fuse?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketToday’s a grey, windy day. It would be so easy to think myself gloomy. Which got me thinking again about thinking, and how it relates to happiness and depression.

Last month I wrote about a recent study suggesting it may be hard to think your way out of depression. I warned readers not to let such results stop us from watching how we think,  and perhaps avoiding depression in the first place.

As a further note-to-self to watch those thoughts, consider another thought-ful study.

Here’s what the study did.

  • People were given tests of negative thinking to identify their risk of developing depression. People in the top quarter of scores were put in a  high-risk group and people in the bottom quarter were put in a low-risk group. Currently depressed people were excused from the study.
  • Participants’ mental health was assessed regularly over 2.5 years*. The assessors didn’t know which people were in which group. 

Here’s what the study found.

  • Whether or not people had a history of depression, a greater proportion of the high-risk group than the low-risk group developed both major depressive disorder (the clinical term for depression) and minor depression.
  • For people with no history of depression, 17% of the high-risk group, compared with only 1% of the low-risk group, developed major depressive disorder. The high-risk group also had many more minor depressive episodes.
  • The researchers concluded that negative thinking makes you more susceptible to depression.

Some studies look at the relationship between negative thinking and depression at a snapshot in time. But knowing things go together doesn’t say which came first – do you think negatively because you’re depressed or are you depressed because you think negatively? Because this study unfolded over time and excluded already-depressed people, it could say that depression followed thinking.

That doesn’t prove negative thinking causes depression, but it’s good evidence that negative thinking could be a contributor.

So please – watch what you think. It’s powerful.

Study details: Alloy L.B., Abramson L.Y., Whitehouse W.G., Hogan M.E., Tashman N.A., Steinberg D.L., Rose D.T., & Donovan P. (1999). Depressogenic cognitive styles: predictive validity, information processing and personality characteristics, and developmental origins. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 37, 503-531(29).

*The study was part of a series for which data was collected over 5 years. The results described here apply to the first 2.5 years of the data.

Related articles:

Maybe you can’t think yourself out, but don’t think yourself in

By Michele Connolly

Choose to be happier – and you will be.

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