The Madness of the Sadness

Responses to sadness can predict depression relapses

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One of the sad things about depression is its tendency to return to cause more suffering. Scientists have new clues as to why that happens. How the brain responds to sadness may predict if depression will return to someone who has been wrestling with the disease.

The key is accepting one's feelings, rather than analyzing them. Those are the findings of a University of Toronto study.

"To keep the blues away, acknowledge and accept your feelings."

For the study, researchers worked with 16 patients whose depression had been successfully treated. They were shown sad movie clips, while functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to track brain activity.

Sixteen months later, nine of the patients had battled depression again.

Investigators compared the brain activity of patients who had relapsed into depression against those who did not and against people who had never been depressed.

Norman Farb, a PhD psychology student and lead author of the study, says that the patients who relapsed had more activity in a frontal area of the brain. These responses were also linked to increased thinking or obsessing on negative events.

Patients who did not relapse had greater activity in the rear part of the brain that processes visual information. This area is also linked to greater acceptance and non-judgemental thoughts.

Farb says that the differences in responses to emotional challenges, as seen in activity in the different areas of the brain, can indicate future well-being.

He says that patients with a history of depression would do well to stop analyzing and trying to interpret sadness. Acknowledging and accepting their feelings is apparently healthier than trying to explain and analyze them.

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Review Date: 
June 2, 2011
Last Updated:
June 3, 2011