Depression causes many unpleasant symptoms and memory loss is one of the lesser known of them. Find out why this happens and what you can do about it
If you are suffering from depression you probably expect to feel sad, hopeless or tearful. But finding it also affects your memory might come as a nasty surprise. Yet researchers are in agreement that depression can lead to memory loss, so why exactly does this happen?
Here’s the science
Memory problems relating to depression are thought to happen because your brain’s processing speed – its ability to take in information quickly and efficiently – becomes impaired when you’re depressed, which affects how you process and retrieve memories.
In fact, researchers from Brigham Young University believe they’ve worked out exactly why depression affects memory. They believe it damages a process called ‘pattern separation’, which is your ability to differentiate things that are similar. The more depressed a person feels, the more difficult it becomes to distinguish between similar experiences, meaning they’re less likely to remember them.
Plus, lots of people who are depressed are also distracted and have difficulty concentrating, which can prevent them really focusing on things enough to remember them. Depression has a tendency to trap you in ‘negative thought-loops’ which is why it’s been dubbed an ‘interference phenomenon’ by some experts. You become fixated on these thoughts to the extent that they interfere with your ability to remember other facts or information.
Did you know? A study on depression and memory by the University of Texas found that depression reduces memory capacity by as much as 12 per cent.
What can you do?
Treatment for depression usually involves a combination of medicines, talking therapies and self-help. There might be a certain amount of trial and error while you find what works for you.
It may also depend on how serious your depression is. Mild to moderate depression can sometimes be managed with exercise, self-help groups and talking therapies. But more serious cases of depression could need antidepressant medication and the support of a mental health team, alongside the other treatments.
If you are worried that memory loss problems might be a symptom of a wider issue such as depression, the sooner you find out the better you soon could feel. See your GP and he can give you an initial assessment and refer you on from there.