Antidepressant May Increase Positive Autobiographical Recall

Depression is a worldwide mental health condition that creates an economic, emotional and physical burden on the individual experiencing the illness and those around them. There are many symptoms associated with depression, including insomnia, weight loss, forgetfulness, cognitive impairment, sadness, loss of appetite, rumination, and negative affect. Therapeutic approaches such as mindfulness-based therapies have been shown to be highly effective at treating the often debilitating symptoms of depression. Pharmacological protocols including selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have also been used to treat persistent symptoms of depression. A number of studies have been conducted on both SSRI and SNRI antidepressant medications and have yielded mixed cognitive outcomes. One of the primary goals of any depression treatment is to minimize negative affect. A common strategy for achieving this is to transform a client’s cognitive and behavioral patterns. When people are severely depressed, they tend to ruminate about negative experiences and perpetuate the cycle of depression. Focusing on accessing positive memories and avoiding negative memories is one way in which a client can begin to change maladaptive cycles and work toward recovery.

Although there is abundant research on how cognitive performance is affected by antidepressants, there is less on autobiographical memory (AM) recall. To address this gap, Marietta Papadatou-Pastou of the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford in England recently examined how the SNRI reboxetine affected the AM in 24 adults with major depression. Papadatou-Pastou obtained magnetic resonance images of the participants as they performed AM tasks based on both negative and positive cues. She found that the individuals who took the reboxetine recalled positive memories more quickly than negative ones. Additionally, the antidepressant group had quicker positive AM recall than the participants who received a placebo. Papadatou-Pastou also noticed that these effects were consistent regardless of the presence of anxiety or other mood issues. She believes these findings can be significantly important for individuals who struggle with negative rumination and are resistant to therapy alone. Papadatou-Pastou added, “If such negative events are not being constantly rehearsed, they have a greater chance of being forgotten.”

Papadatou-Pastou, M., Miskowiak, K. W., Williams, J. M. G., Harmer, C. J., Reinecke, A. (2012). Acute antidepressant drug administration and autobiographical memory recall: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027969

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  • Tami B

    July 9th, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    I am sure that this offers so much hope not only to patients who have to battle depression but also to their families who have had to watch them suffer through it. I love reading some good news for a change!

  • tobias franklin

    July 9th, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    What we need to be careful to remember though, or to think about at the very least, is do these positives outweigh the negatives that can be brought on by taking so many different medications. I know that they can have their place, and for many people they have helped them achieve sanity and peace when once they thought they were not going to be privy to that in their lives. But at what cost? What kind of damage are we doing to our physical health to maintain mental balance? I wish that it could be different and that you did not have to give up one aspect of your health to achieve normalcy in another but with all these deications that is what it seems like the choice always boils down too. I am glad that I have not been faced with having to make that kind of decision.

  • Kate

    July 10th, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    I have always tried to make an effort to put the bad behind me and focus only on the good. If there is evidence that certain antidepressants can also help depressed patients do the same, then kudos for everyone involved with this! They deserve to have a wonderful and fulfilling life too, and if this is what offers that to them, then so be it.

  • Paley

    July 10th, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    There are so many ways that you can teach someone not to ruminate on this negative thought and energy: why do we always have to look for the pharmaceutical solution when there are numerous other avenues to pursue?

    This makes me feel even more strongly that many practitioners are simply looking for the quick fix, the easy way out. It is like giving someone the fish without teaching them how to fish for themselves. What happens in these cases when the prescriptions run out and the patients then have to go back to living their life as before? Had they been given the right anxiety reducing skills then that would not matter.

    Encourage them to exercise, to meditate, to practice mindful breathing. All of these things are ways that you can help someone to diminish the negative thinking and give rise to more of the positive. Don’t you think that these sorts of skills are the ones that they will find valuable over time instead of always seeking the quick fox in a pill form?

  • Linda

    July 11th, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    Whenever I see somebody around me being depressed or low I always tell them to try and surround themselves with things and people that makes them feel good and look on the positive side in life.

    You know sometimes all it takes is the right environment for positive thoughts to foster and for them to replace thoughts of failure and those that pull you down.

  • shea

    July 11th, 2012 at 4:28 AM

    Hey, my thought is you do what’s right for you.
    If it’s the therapy couch then great, go for it.
    If it is medication that helps, then by all means, take your meds.
    If it is a combination if both or something else, then do it.
    The key lesson is that you just have to find what works for you and stick with it.
    For many of us depression is not something fleeting in and out of our lives one time: many of us have to deal with this numerous times in our lives.
    And what works once may not work the next time, but that doesn’t mean that you give up.’
    You find something else that will work, and in the times when you are feeling better then you begin to incorporate other things into your life that may help yo to improve your overall health and prevent depression from coming back again.

  • Jay

    July 30th, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    Interesting. However, antidepressants have had the opposite effect on me by completely destroying my episodic memory – both positive and negative. Nearly a year after discontinuing meds, my memory is still not 30% as good as it used to be, and now, I have to go back on them because my depression is returning.

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