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How Happy Memories Help Treat Mental Problems

Apr 22, 2016 01:20 PM EDT
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Researchers from the University of Liverpool has published a study claiming that happy memories and images generate positive emotions that treat mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
(Photo : Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Researchers from the University of Liverpool have published a study claiming that happy memories and images generate positive emotions that treat mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.

The team, led by Dr Peter Taylor from the University's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, looked at the emotional reactions of 123 participants through a technique called social broad-minded affective coping (BMAC) .

"BMAC is an intervention that aims to elicit positive affect or emotion through the use of mental imagery of a positive memory," read the study published in Science Journal.

For the study, the researchers focused on individuals' emotional reactions to the mental imagery of a positive social memory. In the process, the participants were asked to recall a recent positive memory of being with another person. After which, they were asked to complete the social BMAC prompt sheet. After completing the measures, the team discovered that safe/warm positive affect, relaxed positive affect and feelings of social safeness increased following the social BMAC, while negatives were decreased.

"The findings suggest that the BMAC has the potential to be a practical and effective method for boosting mood amongst individuals with specific mental health problems such as anxiety or depression," said lead researcher Peter Taylor from the University.

In as separate study, a group of neuroscientists looked into how artificially reactivating positive memories can reverse a depression.

"Once you identify specific sites in the memory circuit which are not functioning well, or whose boosting will bring a beneficial consequence, there is a possibility of inventing new medical technology where the improvement will be targeted to the specific part of the circuit, rather than administering a drug and letting that drug function everywhere in the brain," says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and senior author of the paper.

The study explains why psychotherapies are proven successful in treating depressed patients.

The recent findings of the scientists at the University of Liverpool may help in addressing the increasing number of suicide cases worldwide, as there has been evidence proving that there is a link between suicide and rising rates of distress among middle aged people.

New York Times recently reported that federal data analysis has found that suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, with increases in every age group except older adults.

Moreover, the "positive memory" approach may be used as an alternate to antidepressant drugs, which targets the entire brain.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall, with over 41,000 people commiting suicide each year in the United States.

Below is a video showing tips on addresing depression and anxiety:

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