Depression: Remembering happy times can help to build teenagers’ resilience

Written by: Emma Lee-Potter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Reminiscing about happy memories can help to protect young people against depression in later life, new research has found.

Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 300 million people.

The condition often appears for the first time during the teenage years, when youngsters experience changes in their brain structure and chemistry. Early life stress, such as illness, adverse family circumstances, parents’ separation or bereavement, are known to be risk factors.

People often reminisce about the past to lift their mood when they are feeling sad so academics from the University of Cambridge and University College London decided to examine whether remembering positive experiences could help to protect young people against stress in adolescence.

The team analysed data from nearly 430 young people from Cambridge and the surrounding area. Their average age was 14 and all of them were considered to be at risk of depression.

The researchers found that remembering specific positive events reduced the teenagers’ vulnerability to depression over the course of a year. They also reported that recalling positive events only reduced negative self-related thoughts and depression if the adolescents had experienced stressful life events. It did not apply to teens who had not been through difficult times.

“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 research was funded by the Aker Scholarship, the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust. The results have been published in Nature Human Behaviour. Visit


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