How Does Depression Affect Cognition?
Depression affects people physically and psychologically and this includes effects on how you think – cognition (Depression and Cognitive Dysfunction). The effects of depression on cognitive function include impacts to memory, attention, speed of thought, decision-making and psychomotor skills (skills that require both thought and movement such as hand-eye coordination). Even when a person with major depressive disorder isn't experiencing acute depression, they can still experience cognitive deficits (cognitive symptoms in depression). The effects of depression on cognitive function can negatively impact depressed individuals and those who depend on them such as family, friends and community members.
Additionally, even with depression recovery where the emotional and physical symptoms retreat, the cognitive symptoms of depression may remain.
Video courtesy of Global Medical Education
Cognitive Effects of Depression on Work
Many aspects of cognition are critical in a work environment. For example, an office worker likely has to remember the meetings they have, concentrate on writing reports and make decisions about which action to take next. Prioritizing and multitasking are also required in many jobs and these cognitive functions can be impaired by depression.
Unfortunately, research bears out that people who experience the effects of depression on cognitive function in areas like memory, processing speed, attention and problem-solving are more likely to be unemployed or have a lower occupational status.
Cognitive Effects of Depression on School
When depression affects cognition, learning becomes more difficult and this can be seen in the teen years when mental illness often first develops. Even students who excelled may suddenly find paying attention in class and recalling new information extremely difficult due to depression. Young people may prefer to drop out of school, particularly when depression is undiagnosed, because they are so discouraged.
The cognitive effects of depression on school can be seen in adults, too, and may prevent adults from obtaining the education necessary for career success.
Cognitive Effects of Depression on Relationships
While it's easy to pinpoint how cognitive functions, like memory and speed of thought, might impact work and school, cognitive deficits affect personal relationships as well. For example, if a person with depression finds focusing attention on another person difficult, that can negatively impact relationships that are built on give-and-take. Not being able to make decisions may make tackling paying bills at home difficult – making money an area of conflict in a relationship. People may appear lazy or uninterested, when, really, they are just suffering the cognitive effects of depression.
Mediating the Effects of Depression on Cognition
While the effects of depression on cognition may seem difficult to negotiate, it's important to know that people develop strategies to compensate for cognitive dysfunction. An example of this is setting alarms for appointments throughout the day and keeping electronic lists of things to do. More information on treating cognitive deficits in depression can be found here.