The most disturbing warning sign of my last major spell of depression (in 2009) was sudden memory loss. I had organised a seminar in London and knew most of the participants from various places, but for the first time in my career, I could not put names to faces or recall where the people I recognised worked, or what they did. It was devastating. Soon after that I mothballed my thriving business, and I haven’t felt able to return to it since.

memoryOther cognitive problems hit me too – difficulty making decisions, poor concentration, reduced attention and sloooww reactions. Most of these have improved, but 5 years on I still struggle to read more than a few pages of a book at a time, or concentrate on anything more complicated than, say, Newsround. This is frustrating, to say the least, as my expectation was that my concentration would improve as I felt better.

Research into long-term cognitive impairment in depression is fairly new, but gaining ground.  In a 2010 Norwegian study, depressed patients showed impaired performance on cognitively demanding tasks (the so-called Stroop paradigm) whilst they were still depressed, and this impairment prevailed after 6 months, despite significant improvement in their depressive symptoms.

Might add Stroop testing to my list of things to measure to see if anything changes over time.  (Stroop and other cognition tests can be found on

Meanwhile, these should help to improve concentration:

1. Examine emotional state
2. Get sufficient sleep
3. Eat well
4. Get regular exercise
5. Know when concentration is easiest
6. Be specific in estimates of time and set goals
7. Prepare mentally by putting other things out of mind
8. Plan regular breaks

Further reading

The Relationship Between Depression and Cognitive Deficits, A. Papazacharias & M Nardini, 2012

Cognitive Functioning in Major Depression – A Summary, A. Hammar & G. Ardal, 2009

Enduring cognitive dysfunction in unipolar major depression: a test-retest study using the Stroop paradigm A. Hammar et al, 2010

Studies of Interference in Serial Verbal Reactions J Ridley Stroop, 1935

Concentration – Study pressure,  Campus Life, Kings College London


can I have my brain back now? cognitive impairment from depression endures

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