Depressive Thinking

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Most people have experienced
depression for at least a short period of time, perhaps as the result of an
event or confluence of events. For others, though, depression will not
dissipate with time, imprisoning the mind for a lifetime.
The causes of depression are
many and varied. Occasionally the reasons are there for all to see: a loved one
has died, for example, or a job has been lost or an important relationship has
broken up. More often the cause is mysterious to the casual observer because it
is not events that necessarily cause depression, it is the way in which we
interpret events.
Psychologists have found that,
despite the variability in the causes of depression, there are some fascinating
ways in which the thinking of depressed people often follows particular
patterns. These patterns can be seen in people’s ‘attributions’.
An attribution is when a
person attaches a particular cause to a particular effect, for example: “I
didn’t get the job because I am worthless.” It might be clear to other people
around me that I am not a worthless person but, in my mind, that is the
connection, or attribution, I have made. There are three important components
to the type of attribution that are implicated in depressive illness. To
continue with this example, they are:

  • It is my fault that I didn’t
    get the job. Here I have made an internal attribution.
  • I think I am worthless: a
    thought that is likely to affect all areas of my life. Now I am making this
    attribution global.
  • I see no reason for the fact
    that I am worthless to ever change. Now the attribution is stable.
Conversely if something good
happens to a person using this style of thinking, they will tend to attribute
opposite causes. I got the job because I was lucky on the day: it is not
because I am highly employable, it was a fluke and is unlikely to be repeated
in the future.
This particular type of
attribution has been shown to be unusual because people who are not depressed
generally do the exact opposite. Most people have what is described as a
‘self-serving bias’. Anything good that happens to you is because of your
skills, is likely to repeated in the future and will remain the same for you.

So, the theory sounds reasonable, what about the practice? I will take a closer look at some of the research soon.

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.