February 13, 2017
1 min read

Depression may help individuals “let go” of unrealistic goals

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Recent findings suggest that depression may mediate disengagement from unattainable goals and therefore serve as an adaptive function.

“Can depression therefore be the ‘necessary evil’ in an adaptive process? In line with this view, Wrosch and Miller demonstrated in a longitudinal study that depressive symptoms in teenage girls successively led to an increase in goal disengagement processes, which in turn resulted in a reduction of depressive symptoms,” Katharina Koppe, and Klaus Rothermund, PhD, of Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany, wrote. “These findings indicate that depressive symptoms can have an adaptive function by facilitating the development of goal disengagement processes.”

To determine if depression symptoms are adaptive in that they foster disengagement from unattainable goals, researchers assessed how much time 40 individuals with depression receiving inpatient treatment and 38 individuals without depression spent on solvable anagrams.

Analysis indicated that participants with depression spent less time on solvable anagrams, compared with those without depression.

Time needed to solve anagrams did not differ between groups.

The researchers noted that these findings are limited in that they tested disengagement from anagram tasks in a lab and may not be representative of disengagement to personal goals outside the lab.

“Our findings support the theoretical approaches of Klinger, Nesse, and Oatley and Johnson-Laird, which depict depression as an adaptive coping mechanism with the particular purpose of facilitating disengagement from unattainable goals,” the researchers wrote. “This position is contrary to the conventional perception of depression as a per se dysfunctional state. If we succeed in highlighting this functional aspect of depression and efficiently making use of it in psychotherapy, this will radically change our understanding and handling of clinical depression in the future. Desisting from perceiving depression as an obstacle to our well-being, we could actually conceive the crisis as a chance to improve our way of living.” – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.