memory and depression

One of the many fiendish ways depression perpetuates itself in the sufferer is to make it difficult to remember autobiographical events – ie things that you have done or experienced. This is important because non-depressed people, it seems, can and do call on detailed positive or self-affirming memories to cheer themselves up, using such memories to regulate their mood.

Research suggests that depressed people can benefit from purposefully thinking about happier times, if only they could remember any!

mr memory

learn to recall helpful memories despite feeling depressed

Help is at hand: it has now been shown that using the “method-of-loci” technique, with a bit of initial effort recalling important memories is fairly easy – even when you are depressed.

The method of loci can be used to memorise anything, but in this context, and according to research by Dalgleish et al from Cambridge University, it goes like this:

  1. think of 15 positive memories [this is the hard part!] – in as much vivid detail as possible, with sounds, colours, smell etc
  2. think of a journey you know so well you can imagine it easily in your mind – could be the route to work, or the layout of your house
  3. assign a different memory to each of 15 points along the journey by imagining an association between the memory and the point – eg picture crossing the winning line at school race day with your staircase watching in the crowd (the more incongruous or bizarre the association the better)
  4. now you should be able to make that journey in your mind’s eye, recalling each memory point by point

If you do this mind journey often, the memories will automatically come to mind when you make the actual journey. So walking up the stairs at home will remind you of winning that race. And that will have a positive impact on your mood.

try it and see

This looks like a straightforward experiment to try. Mind you, after thinking about it all day I have only managed to come up with one powerfully positive memory. Maybe we need a technique for that part too!


sources and further reading

Williams et al (2007) Autobiographical memory specificity and emotional disorder

Dalgleish et al (2013) Method-of-Loci as a Mnemonic Device to Facilitate Access to Self-Affirming Personal Memories for Individuals With Depression



you must remember this: memory and depression – a helpful technique

One thought on “you must remember this: memory and depression – a helpful technique

  • Hi Libby!
    I wonder if photos count?
    When I see happy photos of me and my husband or friends, it makes me smile and I feel better.
    I still struggle with feeling very down when I get sick, which is often.

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