This mood function is impaired in people with depression, Oxford study shows

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A recent study from the University of Oxford found that periods of lockdown during the COVID-19 situation likely to exacerbate problems with mood regulation.

The mood varies from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and healthy mood regulation involves choosing activities that help settle one’s mood.

However, in situations where personal choices of activities are constrained, such as during periods of social isolation and lockdown, this natural mood regulation is impaired, which might lead to depression.

The findings suggest a new target for treating and reducing depression is supporting natural mood regulation.

The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry. One author is Guy Goodwin, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

This team tested 58,328 participants from different countries, comparing people with low mood or a history of depression with those of high mood.

In the analyses, they tested how people regulate their mood through their choice of everyday activities.

In the general population, there is a strong link between how people currently feel and what activities they choose to engage in next.

This mechanism—mood homeostasis, the ability to stabilize mood via activities—is impaired in people with low mood and may even be absent in people who have ever been diagnosed with depression.

The team says when people are down they tend to choose to do things that cheer them up and when they are up we may take on activities that will tend to bring them down.

However, in the current situation with COVID-19, lockdowns and social isolation people’s choice of activity is very limited.

The research shows this normal mood regulation is impaired in people with depression, providing a new, direct target for further research and development of new treatments to help people with depression.

Using computer simulations, this study also showed that low mood homeostasis predicts more frequent and longer depressive episodes.

Importantly, some associations between activities and mood were highly culture-specific, for example, exercise led to the highest increase in mood in high-income countries, whereas religion did so in low and middle-income countries.

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