The strange symptom of depression most people don’t know about

A study has suggested another symptom of depression which is often overlooked.

According to results published in the journal Psychological Science 2012, an inability to distinguish between negative emotions such as guilt, anger, and frustration, may be a hitherto undiscussed symptom of depression.

The study asked participants, half of whom were experiencing clinical depression, to report on their emotions at random intervals over one week.

Co-author of the study Dr Emre Demiralp, was quoted by Spring as saying

It is difficult to improve your life without knowing whether you are sad or angry about some aspect of it.

For example, imagine not having a gauge independently indicating the gasoline level of your car.

It would be challenging to know when to stop for gas.

We wanted to investigate whether people with clinical depression had emotional gauges that were informative and whether they experienced emotions with the same level of specificity and differentiation as healthy people.

They were asked to measure their feelings in 11 different emotions, including seven which were negative.

  • sad,
  • anxious,
  • angry,
  • frustrated,
  • ashamed,
  • disgusted,
  • guilty,

They found that participants experiencing clinical depression found it difficult to distinguish which negative emotions they were feeling, as opposed to non-depressed people who were clearer about which emotion they were feeling.

The positive emotions were:

  • happy,
  • excited,
  • alert,
  • and active.

The study found that both depressed and non depressed participants were able to distinguish clearly between them, suggesting it was not simply a matter of people experiencing depression struggling to communicate their emotions.

Dr Demiralp, concluded:

Our results suggest that being specific about your negative emotions might be good for you.

It might be best to avoid thinking that you are feeling generally bad or unpleasant.

Be specific.

Is it anger, shame, guilt or some other emotion?

This can help you circumvent it and improve your life.

It is one of our overarching goals to investigate approaches for facilitating this kind of emotional intelligence at a large scale in the population.

In the discussion section of the study, Dr Demiralp wrote:

The present study is the first to show that people diagnosed with MDD  [Major Depressive Disorder] experience negative emotions with less differentiation in their daily lives than do healthy individuals…

Dr Demiralp suggested that whereas specific emotions are generally associated with a causal object, undifferentiated emotions are not. This can lead to problems in prescribing treatments.

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