Link between depression in women and revisiting bad memories
By Margaret Rogers
Research suggests that some women may have a greater risk of depression due to the way they deal with negative memories. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois, showed that women who tested high for neuroticism but were otherwise healthy tended to revisit their negative memories over and over again.
The researchers say that this kind of rumination is known to be linked with depression. Surprisingly, women who supress bad memories are actually more likely to remember them compared to women with alternative coping mechanisms, the researchers added. They found no such association in men.
Florin Dolcos, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois said that the findings suggest that learning to deal with emotional challenges, such as negative memories, in a healthy way may help prevent depression.
The study surveyed 70 men and women aged between 18 and 34. None of the participants had any history of depression or other mental health disorders. They were asked to complete a questionnaire which was designed to awaken memories of life events such as ‘the birth of a family member’, being hospitalised’, or ‘witnessing an accident’.
The participants then recorded the date of the event and reported how regularly they thought about it. They also reported the emotional intensity of the memory. The researchers only analysed the memories with a strong emotional intensity. The participants were also asked to undertake a personality test.
What the researchers found was that men with a high neuroticism score could remember more negative memories than men with low neuroticism. However, women with high neuroticism scores were inclined to visit and revisit the same negative recollections.
The researchers also looked at which of two strategies were used by the participants to handle negative memories. The first strategy was ‘suppression’ where an individual tries not to think about a memory. The second was ‘reappraisal’ where a person tries to minimise the sting of a negative memory by taking a look at it from a different perspective.
Dolcos gave the example of ‘you don’t get the job you wanted, but an opportunity or new connection resulted from the interview. You could reappraise your memory by focusing on the positive points in any situation’.
He added that by refusing to think about negative memories, a person does not get a chance to resolve their feelings about the situation. If you relive memories to reappraise them, you can find a solution to help you feel better.
Dolcos concluded that choosing to reappraise bad memories will interrupt harmful rumination, and may help prevent the development of clinical disorders, including depression.