An Orygen study has found that young people with major depression often blame themselves for being “lazy”, “stupid” and “incompetent” without realising that their mental ill-health may be impacting their neurocognitive functioning.
Recently published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, the study led by Orygen’s Dr Kelly Allott explored the links between depression and neurocognitive deficits in concentration, learning, memory and thinking speed.
“We found that it was common for young people with major depressive disorder (MDD) to experience neurocognitive difficulties such as difficulty paying attention, remembering and learning things,” Dr Allott said.
“We also found there was a bidirectional relationship between neurocognitive difficulties and symptoms of depression – so people with MDD would experience neurocognitive difficulties which would then impact their self-esteem and exacerbate their depressive symptoms.”
The research involved semi-structured qualitative interviews with 11 Victorian young people (aged 17–24 years) experiencing moderate-severe depression.
One respondent stated: “It’s like a loop, because when I’m anxious and depressed I forget things and then I become really anxious and depressed because I’ve forgotten them and I’ve let people down … it just spirals down into self-loathing”.
Another young person said: “Having thoughts in your head constantly affects your concentration. [If] you’re having the thought of ‘you’re not going to do it’ – everything negative – it does affect your performance, obviously”.
The research highlighted the importance of educating young people about the impact that depression can have on cognitive functioning.
As one respondent said: “If someone told me that it’s normal to get distracted or zone out I would be like, ok I’m not that crazy, maybe I’m not stupid, it’s just part of my depression”.
Research has shown that neurocognitive difficulties are not unique to depression – Dr Allott said they were associated with most mental health conditions, including anxiety, psychosis and bipolar disorder.
Dr Allott is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Career Development Fellowship. The funder had no role in the design, conduct or publication of the study.