Depression and Attention, Concentration Problems

People with depression often suffer from attention and concentration problems. Learn what causes these problems and how they can be treated.

Does Depression Affect Concentration?

Unfortunately, depression is associated with several types of cognitive deficits and one area of deficit is in attention. An inability to focus in depression is common. In fact, "diminished ability to concentrate" is an official, diagnostic symptom of depression in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the manual used to diagnose all mental illnesses. Combined with other common depression-related cognitive deficits, like impairments in memory and thought processing speed, depression and attention problems can make learning and retaining information very difficult.


 

Causes of Attention Problems in Depression

It is not known, specifically, what causes attention problems in depression. It may have to do with the gray brain matter shrinkage that is typically present in people with major depressive disorder. What is known, though, is that both people with unipolar and people with bipolar depression experience concentration problems and both youth and adults with depression experience this cognitive deficit. Fatigue, another symptom of depression, may also play a role in negatively affecting attention span.

It's worth noting that some antidepressant medications that are used to treat depression may have cognitive side effects such as attention problems. If these problems arise after starting a medication, the treating doctor may decide to alter the dose or the medication type. (Psychiatric Medications: Uses, Dosage, Side-Effects)

Also, many people with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also experience depression and when these illnesses are present together, they may compound each other.

How Does Depression and an Inability to Focus Affect People?

Of course, anything that requires sustained attention is negatively affected by depression and concentration problems. This includes things like:

  • Reading a book
  • Engaging in in-depth conversation
  • Paying attention to a set of instructions/directions
  • Watching a movie

And because depression causes attention problems, projects are often left half-done and unfinished. Unfortunately, the person with depression may view this as a failure on his or her part rather than seeing it for what it is: a symptom of depression.

Additionally, tasks that require divided attention, such as multitasking, also suffer during a depression. Engaging in a conversation while completing another task is an example of something that can be very difficult. Depression and a lack of concentration may negatively impact a person's employment where multitasking is often required.

Treatment for Depression and Concentration Problems

There is no specific treatment for concentration problems in depression but there are techniques used to treat cognitive deficits in depression and in general. This can include things like drills and exercises, learning compensatory strategies and using external devices (such as voice recorders) to improve, or work around, cognitive deficits.



next: Depression and Slow Thinking
~ all articles on symptoms of depression
~ all articles on depression

Last Updated: 30 January 2018

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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