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People Tend to Believe Life Gets Better even when Depressed, Study Finds

Update Date: Oct 21, 2014 02:08 PM EDT

Adults in general tend to have optimistic views about the future, a new study found. According to the researchers, people, even those who are depressed, believe that life will get better.

"It turns out that even clinically depressed individuals are also characterized by the belief that one's life in the future will be more satisfying than one's past and current life," explained psychological scientist and lead researcher Michael Busseri of Brock University in Canada. "And this pattern of beliefs appears to be a risk factor for future depression, even over a 10-year period."

For this study, Busseri and his colleagues examined data collected from the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) survey, which was administered to a nationally representative group of middle-aged adults. The team had access to two waves of data that were gathered 10 years apart. When analyzing the first wave of information, the researchers only focused on individuals who were 45-years-old or younger.

The researchers also conducted clinical interviews to assess the participants' depressive symptoms. The participants had to report their life satisfaction levels for the past, present and future on a scale from 0 to 10, 0 begin the worst and 10 being the best.

The team found that at each time point, participants suffering from depressive symptoms reported a lower level of life satisfaction when compared to participants who were not depressed. However, both depressed and non-depressed participants believed that their lives would improve. Non-depressed participants were more likely to report that their lives progressively improved over time whereas depressed participants did not.

Instead, depressed participants reported the same level of life satisfaction for the past and current time zones with a significant increase in life satisfaction for the future. The researchers noted that people who reported low life satisfaction levels for the past and current lifetimes had a greater risk of depression 10 years later.

"What we don't know yet is whether this improved future life is actually something that depressed individuals feel they will achieve," Busseri explained according to the press release. "It's possible, for example, that envisioning a brighter future is a form of wishful thinking - rather than a sign of encouragement and hope."

On the other hand, Busseri added that, "The fact that even depressed individuals can envision their lives being more satisfying in the future may provide clinicians and mental health workers with a valuable new avenue for intervention, for example, through focusing on helping individuals develop concrete goals and realistic plans for achieving a more satisfying future life. An important next step is determine whether modifying individuals' subjective trajectories - making them more realistic, or 'flatter' - might attenuate symptoms of depression, or longer-term risk of depression."

The study was published in the Association for Psychological Science's journal, Clinical Psychological Science.

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