Promises Malibu

When Depression Leaves You Feeling Out of Control

Posted on June 28th, 2013
Posted in Mental Health

It is not uncommon for people living with depression to feel that they are somehow helpless, that life’s circumstances are outside of or beyond their control. Depression can create feelings of futility. Life is just a matter of waiting for the next unavoidable and unsolvable problem. The sense of powerlessness can be paralyzing. A recent study may have uncovered the explanation behind this sense of helplessness. Depression slows down a person’s time sensitivity, making one more aware of cause-and-effect relationships in their immediate environment.

The British study utilized a computer-generated test situation to evaluate reactions to varying levels of control. In the study, a virtual house populated with SIMS-like characters created a format for testing. Depressed and non-depressed participants were instructed to move from room to room and use a remote control device to active the stereo in each room. They were told that they would be testing how reliably the remote control functioned in various rooms of the house.  Each room offered a slightly different degree of control by design.

The remote control device was supposed to turn on the music in each room. Sometimes the music began as soon as the user pushed the control button, but at other times participants were faced with momentary delays in a room. In some instances, the music began even without the remote button being pushed. After visiting each room, users were asked to evaluate how much control the remote afforded in that particular room. They were also asked to assess how much control of the music was governed by the room itself rather than the controller.

The study showed that depressed participants did react differently to the various levels of control whether it was their own opportunity to push the control button or the lag time in responsiveness.  In actuality, when more time was needed to start the music, the depressed participants made more realistic evaluations about effectiveness compared to the non-depressed participants.  Evidently depression slows down a person’s time perception and allows them more freedom to process what they see happening around them.

A person with depression feels that time has somehow slowed down. This gives them more time to examine relationships at work and all around them. Their evaluations are therefore more reality-based than are those of non-depressed people. It also means that depressed people are acutely aware of how many things are beyond their control, leaving them feeling helpless.

The researchers in this study say that this could explain why mindfulness therapy is so effective in overcoming the feelings of helplessness associated with depression. Mindfulness therapy focuses on living in the present moment, not looking ahead to the eventualities which may come.   Far from being irrationally distressed, depressed people may be able to read situations and outcomes only too well. Switching to momentary focus could help them avoid feeling out of control.

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