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Repeated memories tied to certain mental health disorders: study


New research suggests that certain types of repeated memories can be linked to specific symptoms of mental health disorders.


The study, published Monday in npj Mental Health Research, which is part of the Nature Portfolio, and conducted by researchers with the department of psychology at the University of Waterloo, aimed to explore how “involuntary autobiographical memories” or IAMs — meaning personal past memories recalled unintentionally and repetitively — can correlate with various states of mental health.


Researchers hoped to determine whether the content of recurring memories — such as recalling an interaction with a friend or remembering an embarrassing moment — can lead to greater symptoms of depression, PTSD, social anxiety and general anxiety.


While previous research has focused on how specific moments — or traumas — may trigger a decline in mental health, this study aimed to look at how people’s repetitive “reconstruction” of events and repetitive emotional responses can play a specific role in psychopathology, the researchers say.


The authors of this study suggest that negative emotions tied to specific memories can lead to worse symptoms in certain mental health disorders.


“We found unique relationships between specific topics and specific symptoms of disorders, above and beyond how positive or negative a memory was rated,” the authors said in the study.


“Our study suggests that content, such as the types of events described and how the individual reconstructs them is also vital to consider and provides unique insight into mental health status.”


Between 2018 and 2020, more than 6,000 participants completed online surveys about recurrent memories and were asked to describe the content of those memories, the study explains.


Based on the responses, the researchers created categories for certain memories such as “experiences with family members,” “conversations” or memories of “miscommunication.”


They found that specific topics, such as “negative past relationships” or “abuse and trauma,” were “uniquely related to symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression or PTSD.”


Participants who showed symptoms of depression, the study found, were most likely to have recurring memories pertaining to “abuse and trauma,” while those suffering from symptoms of PTSD were most likely to have recurring memories of “negative past relationships.”


Those suffering from symptoms of PTSD were also less likely to repeatedly recall positive memories, such as “interactions with friends.”


Memories about social interactions, meanwhile, were related to symptoms of social anxiety, “but not symptoms of other disorders.”


People with symptoms of social anxiety were more likely to recall memories around “reflections and decisions” and less likely to repeatedly recall memories about “negative past relationships” and “abuse and trauma.”


Participants with general anxiety symptoms were most likely to have repeated memories about recalled “conversations.”


“Topics in recurrent IAMs — and their links to mental health — are identifiable, distinguishable, and quantifiable,” researchers said.



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