Staying Positive May Predict Decreases in Depression

Affect is closely associated with a number of different psychological and somatic conditions. With relation to mood disorders such as depression, affect can often be a direct predictor of symptom severity, persistence, and remission. Positive affect (PA) describes one’s ability to hold a positive view about situations and circumstances. Individuals with high levels of PA may find it easier to be optimistic about their treatment prognosis than those with low levels of PA.

Recently, the persistence of PA has emerged as a topic of research in the study on depression. How a person transfers momentary positive affect to daily life could predict their depression outcome. This persistence of PA was the subject of a recent study conducted by Petra Hohn of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the School for Mental Health and Nueroscience at Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands. For the study, Hohn chose to examine the outcomes from three separate studies, two involving nonmedicinal treatment and one involving treatment with medication.

The results revealed that the individuals who were able to maintain their PA over time had significant decreases in symptoms of depression than those with little PA persistence. In the studies without medication, this improvement was particularly apparent at eight week follow-ups. Further, the difference in symptom severity was even more pronounced in individuals who had recurrent depression compared to those with first-episode depression.

Hohn believes that this could be the result of a compounding of skill acquisition over time. For instance, those who had dealt with depression in the past may have strengthened their PA persistence and developed methods for improving PA over time, while those experiencing their first depressive episode had not.

Another interesting finding emerged from the third study. In this analysis, Hohn discovered that the individuals with medication treatment had higher levels of PA persistence compared to those who were not on antidepressant medication. The reasons for this could again be due to a compounding effect, although more research in this area should be conducted to determine the exact effects of medication on PA persistence.

In sum, this study shows that unique facets of PA serve to protect individuals from depression. Hohn added, “The ability to transfer PA from one moment to the next is an important factor in the prevention of and recovery from depressive symptoms.”

Höhn, P., Menne-Lothmann, C., Peeters, F., Nicolson, N.A., Jacobs, N., et al. (2013). Moment-to-moment transfer of positive emotions in daily life predicts future course of depression in both general population and patient samples. PLoS ONE 8(9): e75655. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075655

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  • cale


    November 6th, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    Certainly something to think about, the fact that having more than one depressive episode in life could actually help you better deal with another if that is something that happens again. You kind of don’t want to have to think that this is something that could happen again in life but I guess that there is always that chance and maybe if you learn from what helped you in the past this could be a little better protection for you if it shows up in life again.

  • Glenn


    November 7th, 2013 at 4:45 AM

    Maybe this is wrong on my part, but I never really thought that those who suffer from depression would be the people who had very much in the ability of staying positive. Is that wrong?

  • Rehabcenternet


    November 7th, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    Obviously meds helped bring out PA. How do you treat someone who has stuggled with that? BGT and Meds I am guessing?

  • LULU


    November 8th, 2013 at 4:50 AM

    Sounds so much easier than it actually is for a lot of us to maintain this PA in the real world.
    I kind of feel like when I read something like this that if I could only keep smiling, stay positive, then I will ultimately stay strong.
    But I think that any of us who have struggled with depression know that it is so much harder than just staying this way because there are some times when the depression is totally swallowing you and you feel helpless to it.
    How do I maintain that PA when I am feeling like that? What could help me? Maybe there are just some people who are destined to be happier than others?

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