Depressive People Have Abstract Goals
July 8, 2013

Depressive People More Likely To Have Abstract Goals, Making Symptoms Worse

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A study from a team of researchers at the University of Liverpool found that people suffering from depression are more likely to have a list of abstract goals they would like to achieve at any point in time.

Researchers asked participants to list goals they would like to achieve any time in the short, medium or long-term. They analyzed the lists of personal goals made by people who suffered from depression and those who did not.

The goals were categorized by their degree specificity. Some of the goals were abstract, like "to be happy," while others were more specific such as "improve my 5-mile marathon time this summer." The team found that while both groups generated the same number of goals, people with depression listed goals which were more general and abstract.

According to the study, people who suffer from depression are also far more likely to give non-specific reasons for achieving and not achieving their goals. Experts suspect that having overly broad, abstract goals may actually serve to maintain and even exacerbate depression. Goals that are not specific are harder to visualize, which may result in reduced expectation of realizing them, which in turn results in lower motivation to try to achieve them.

"We know that depression is associated with negative thoughts and a tendency to overgeneralize, particularly in reference to how people think about themselves and their past memories," said Dr Joanne Dickson. "This study, for the first time, examined whether this trait also encompasses personal goals. We found that the goals that people with clinical depression listed lacked a specific focus, making it more difficult to achieve them and therefore creating a downward cycle of negative thoughts."

She said that these findings could improve the development of effective new ways of treating clinical depression.

"Helping depressed people set specific goals and generate specific reasons for goal achievement may increase their chances of realizing them which could break the cycle of negativity which is coupled with depression," Dickson added.

Depression has been brought to light increasingly over the past decade, but one study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics in April found that the condition is being over-diagnosed and over-treated in America. The researchers from this study discovered that less than 39-percent of those who had been diagnosed with clinical depression actually met the 12-month criteria for depression, despite the fact that the majority of participants had received anti-depressant subscriptions.