October 4, 2012

I Should Apologize For This Post, But I Won’t

I’m going to be sad instead.

The Association for Psychological Science is going to be releasing a full study soon that discloses information that will probably not be too surprising when it’s available. The press release, titled “Feeling Guilty Versus Feeling Angry – Who Can Tell the Difference,” discusses the identification of a person’s feelings and emotional intelligence.

The study concludes that people who suffer from depression have a harder time classifying their negative emotions than the rest of the population.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. I feel like I can speak to this topic because I am absolutely batshit crazy. I have suffered from depression and anxiety since I was a small child, which remained undiagnosed for a decade and a half because juvenile depression wasn’t even a theory back then. After many years, I was finally correctly diagnosed with rapid cycling Bipolar II disorder. I understand quite clearly why people with clinical depression have a problem with differentiating between emotions: we feel so many negative ones all at once and there’s not always one dominating emotion.

The technical aspects of the study, conducted by Emre Demiralp of the University of Michigan and his colleagues, consisted of a hypothesis that became their conclusion, and used a pool of 106 people within the range of 18 to 40. Half were diagnosed with clinical depression and half were not. They were issued a Palm Pilot that prompted them to record their feelings 56 times a day. Seven were negative in nature and four were positive. I feel like if anybody asked me “how are you feeling?” 56 times a day, the only answer you’d get is “frustrated and angry.” But that’s just me, not wanting to be bothered.

Anna Mikulak, the author of the press release, writes: “Demiralp and his colleagues looked at participants’ tendency to give multiple emotions (e.g., disgusted and frustrated) similar rankings at a given point in time. According to their methodology, the more two emotions were reported together the less the person differentiated between these emotions. The researchers found that clinically depressed people had less differentiated negative emotions than those who were healthy, supporting their hypothesis.”

I take issue with the idea that ranking two feelings equally also means a clinically depressed person cannot discern between the two. Trust me, I can be frustrated and disgusted at the same time. If you know anyone who works in the public school system, you know what I mean. Depressed people often go inside their heads too much. They’re told they’re too sensitive. It’s quite possible that, since they were actually diagnosed with depression, they became more aware of their feelings at any given time. I would like to wait to see the release of the full study before I continue to pick it apart, but I can’t help but see so many factors in why this study was a waste of money for the NMHI and the fellows who funded it.

“Demiralp and his colleagues argue that the procedure used in the study to record emotions may be particularly useful in studying the emotional experience of clinically depressed people, paving the way for more treatment and therapy options in the future,” the press release says. I’m pretty sure most mental health professionals were aware of that tool and, from personal experience, I can say it’s been used for years.

I think that, as a person with mental health issues, it’s pretty clear that I experience an extremely wide range of emotions (or none at all) all day long. I also find myself experiencing multiple emotions at once, multiple times throughout the day. That doesn’t mean I can’t tell the difference between the two. The only real benefit to tracking emotions is for self-awareness and, as I already said, that’s been done for a long time.

I do believe that many clinically depressed people aren’t always sure of exactly how they feel. The severity of the participants’ depression isn’t cited but, then again, how can you cite exactly how “healthy” someone is, either? The other thing I had to think on for awhile was the fact that the study said neither study group had issues with differentiating between the positive emotions. I think that has a definite significance when coupled with the other findings.

Right now, though, after reading the press release of the study, I’m feeling confused, apathetic, and annoyed. Equally. And yes, I know the difference between them.

Image Credit: Nomad_Soul / Shutterstock

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