Recalling positive memories ‘could protect teens from depression’

‘Remembering the good times’ could help teenagers avoid depression ‘by reducing levels of a stress hormone’

  • Cambridge University scientists studied more than 400 teenagers
  • The ability to recall specific positive memories reduced stress hormones
  • Training yourself to control emotions could be a way of preventing depression 
  • Scientists said it is important to find non-medical ways to avoid depression 
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Recalling happy memories could help teenagers stave off depression, researchers claim.

‘Remembering the good times’, scientists say, could be an important weapon in avoiding serious mental health issues in adolescence and adulthood.

With mental illnesses proving more serious if they develop in youth, the skill of reminiscing could be a useful lifelong tool in building resilience.

Training teenagers to use positive thoughts to control their emotions was found to reduce stress hormones and improve self-image over the long-term.

Depression affects more than 300million people around the world, according to the World Health Organization, and researchers say problems which start in adolescence tend to last longer and be more severe than those which surface in adulthood (stock image)

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A study led by the University of Cambridge analysed 427 young people, with an average age of 14, who were considered to be at risk of depression.

Affecting more than 300million people around the world, depression is the leading cause of disability, according to the World Health Organization.

So to find a new way of tackling the condition, experts suggest making young people resilient before they begin to suffer.


While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.

Depression can affect anyone at any age and is fairly common – approximately one in ten people are likely to experience it at some point in their life. 

Depression is a genuine health condition which people cannot just ignore or ‘snap out of it’.

Symptoms and effects vary, but can include constantly feeling upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.

It can also cause physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness, having a low appetite or sex drive, and even feeling physical pain.

In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.

It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication. 

Source: NHS Choices 

‘Our work suggests that “remembering the good times” may help build resilience to stress and reduce vulnerability to depression in young people,’ said Adrian Dahl Askelund, the study’s lead author.

‘This is important as we already know that it is possible to train people to come up with specific positive memories.

‘This could be a beneficial way of helping support those young people at risk of depression.’

The theory is essentially that training people to cheer themselves up with positive thinking could improve their ability to regulate emotion.

Researchers found young people’s levels of cortisol – the stress hormone of which high levels are linked to depression – were lower a year after practising recalling positive events in their lives.

And they also had fewer negative thoughts about themselves.

In the experiment, teenagers were given a word and told to recall a specific memory relating to the word.

Those who were able to recall specific memories tended to be more resistant to depression – the condition has been linked to generalisation and a difficulty in remembering specific events.

Researcher Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen added: ‘Mental health disorders that first occur in adolescence are more severe and more likely to recur in later life

‘With child and adult mental health services underfunded and overstretched, it is critical that we identify new ways to build resilience, particularly in those adolescents who are most at risk for depression.’

The findings were published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. 

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