Can a Vague Memory Forecast Depression?

Research has shown that overgeneral memory, the recalling of memories in a vague, un-detailed manner, can foretell the development of post-traumatic stress. But a recent study suggests that it may also forecast depression. When people are faced with troubling memories, they forget the details in order to avoid the negative emotions associated with them. “It’s an unsung vulnerability factor for unhelpful reactions when things go wrong in life,” said Mark Williams, a clinical psychologist and lead author of the study. When a depressed person shows a persistent tendency to eliminate specific details surrounding an event, it has been shown that they will suffer more severe depressive episodes. This new study is striving to determine if the overgeneral memory trait is a precursor for the development of depression.

“Based on everything we know of memory specificity and depression, there’s a good chance we will find these effects,” said Dirk Hermans, a research psychologist at the University of Leuven in Belgium who collaborates with Dr. Williams. Overgeneral memory characteristics have been shown to be present in Serbian and Bosnian teenagers who have experienced horrific traumas as a result of war. This characteristic can sometimes prove useful when a person cannot face a painful event. However, the overgeneral memory can become an emotional block when it is the primary method of recall.

“If you’re unhappy and you want to be happy, it’s helpful to have memories that you can navigate through to come up with specific solutions,” Dr. Williams said. In his research, Dr. Williams has discovered that mindfulness therapy has been effective in the treatment of some depressive symptoms. This method helps a client identify a specific memory and urges them to face their negative emotions in order to heal from them. This technique could allow those who instinctively use overgeneral memory to develop other methods of recall that could prevent the symptoms of depression.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • robin


    May 14th, 2011 at 6:07 AM

    maybe this is a coping mechanism, they are afraid to remember things too specifically as that will cause even more pain

  • georgia d

    georgia d

    May 14th, 2011 at 11:45 PM

    it’s something that comes naturally to us humans…forgetting the details to escape a negative feeling…but we really need to try and get things fixed so that it is not just brushed under the rug but is thrown out…!

  • Shelley


    May 15th, 2011 at 9:55 AM

  • Shelley


    May 15th, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Sorry about the above post- I hit the wrong button. Anyway what I really wanted to post here :) is that I am kind of tired of reading pieces where there is no real evidence that something is true. It is like some thing “may” cause something else but there is no real proof that that is the case. Hasn’t science progressed enough that we should be beyond that? I mean I think that we need some proof that one thing causes something. Anything “may” cause something to happen, but then again it may not. I personally would like to see more pieces where there is real evidence and the writer feels confident enough to show that there is a real cause and effect relation.

  • TN


    May 15th, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    I know what this means to say is that if you are stressed about a particular memory then you tend to forget details about it…But suppose I’m trying to recall a particular memory and do not get too many details in my head,does it mean that I carry something negative about that particular memory? Or could it be just that I don’t remember too well,it could be that I didnt pay too much attention…So how can we say for sure?!

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.



* Indicates required field.

Therapist   Treatment Center

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on