Dr. Joanna Dickson is the research director on the Doctorate of Clinical Psychology Programme in the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society at the University of Liverpool. Her research interests lie in the area of personal goal motivation and motivated cognition processes in adult and adolescent mental health. Dr. Dickson is interested in supervising PhD research, particularly in the area of goal-motivation and/or autobiographical memories in adolescent or adult mental health.
Joanne Dickson, University of Liverpool – Depression and Goals
Our research found that people with depression have more generalised personal goals than those who are never-depressed.
In this study we analysed the lists of personal goals made by people who suffered with clinical depression and those who didn’t. The participants were asked to list goals they would like to achieve. Goals were categorised for their specificity – for example an abstract goal such as, ‘to be happy’ would represent a general goal, whereas, a goal such as ‘improve my 5-mile marathon time this summer’ would represent a more specific goal.
Our results showed that whilst both groups generated the same number of goals, people with depression listed goals which were more general and abstract, and they were far more likely to give non-specific reasons for achieving their goals.
Having very broad, abstract goals may maintain and exacerbate depression. Goals that are not specific are harder to visualise because they lack a specific focus. This may result in reduced expectation and motivation, making it more difficult to achieve personal goals.
We know that depression is associated with negative thoughts and a tendency to over generalise in relation to how people think about themselves and their past memories. Our study found that this trait also encompasses personal goals.
Importantly, our findings could inform the development of new ways of treating clinical depression in helping depressed people to set specific goals.