How do you envision your future? Are you enthusiastic? Do you have negative thoughts about what your future holds? Do you set goals? Are the goals you set specific or more general? For those struggling with depression, the answers to these questions may be very valuable in diagnosis and treatment.
Depression is defined as a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 18 million Americans are affected by depression at least one time in their adult life.
Despite its prevalence, depression is still underdiagnosed and undertreated. However, as suggested in a recent study published in June 2015, we may be a little closer to unearthing important underlying risk factors for depression and also in discovering new ways to treat this condition. This study, “Prospection and Depression,” by Ann Marie Roepke and Martin E. P. Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania was published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology. Roepke and Seligman conducted a meta-analysis of the literature pertaining to “prospection” and depression. Prospection is defined as “the mental representation of possible futures.”
Based on their findings, the researchers identified three specific types of prospection that can drive depression.
- Poor Generation of Possible Futures
- Poor Evaluation of Possible Futures
- Negative Beliefs About the Future
It is suggested that these beliefs about the future could fuel depression in an individual. What’s more, the authors postulate that, “depressed mood and poor functioning, in turn, may maintain faulty prospection and feed a vicious cycle. Future-oriented treatment strategies drawn from cognitive behavioral therapy help to fix poor prospection, and they deserve to be developed further”.
In another research study performed at the University of Liverpool, thoughts of the future again were found to play an important role in depression. In this study, the author looked at goal setting and found those patients who made less specific or more generalized goals were more likely to suffer from depression. Dr. Joanne Dickson who authored the study stated, “We found that the goals that people with clinical depression listed lacked a specific focus, making it more difficult to achieve them and therefore creating a downward cycle of negative thoughts.” She went on to say, “Helping depressed people set specific goals and generate specific reasons for goal achievement may increase their chances of realizing them which could break the cycle of negativity which is coupled with depression”.
Both studies highlight the significance of our thoughts pertaining to our future and the important role future thinking plays in mental health. Often, practitioners tend to focus on past events or circumstances when discussing and treating depression. These studies suggest, however, that shifting the focusing more toward the future may offer better outcomes. Armed with this knowledge, we may be better suited to assist our patients in changing pessimistic thoughts about the future and in setting specific attainable goals. Although more research is needed to further explore these associations, these studies provide specific tools that anyone can use to forge a path out of the shadows of depression and into a brighter and more optimistic future.
To Health and Happiness, Dr. Aimee Warren