Managing negative thinking in depression

Depression and Thoughts

One of the effects of depression is to change the way you think. When people are depressed, they tend to think the worst about everything. This way of thinking adds to the depression, and makes you feel even worse. Like inactivity, thinking in a negative way actually becomes part of the problem.

Psychologists have identified a set of ‘errors’ people make in the way they think when they are depressed. Thinking becomes distorted, and acts to keep the depression going. Look at these examples and see if you recognise yourself.

  • You think about things in black and white terms. Things are either good or bad with nothing in between. If you try to do something, and part of it is not as good as usual, you tend to write it all off as ‘hopeless’ or ‘useless’ instead of saying it was somewhere in the middle
  • You ignore the positive aspects of an experience and concentrate on what you feel worst about
  • Mindreading – you think that you know what people are thinking, e.g. “She must think I’m a rotten person”. You then act on this, perhaps by avoiding seeing the person again
  • If something goes wrong once, you assume that it will always be as bad as this in the future
  • You use the word ‘should’ a lot. You say things like ‘I should have been able to do that’ or ‘I should have known that he wouldn’t enjoy that’. This makes it seem as if you are failing all the time
  • Whenever anything goes wrong, you assume that it is your fault. If something goes well, you put it down to luck or think it is just a fluke

How to change your thinking

When you feel especially bad, try asking yourself if your way of thinking is making the problem worse. Remember that depression makes you think the worst, and things may not be as bad as they seem.

Try writing down what you have been thinking when you feel especially bad. This may seem difficult at first, but is a good way of getting things into perspective. You do not have to show what you write to anyone else if you do not want to.

When you have an idea of what you are thinking, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I have any actual evidence for what I am thinking or is there evidence I might be mistaken?
  • Could there be another way of thinking about this? What would someone who is not depressed think?
  • If a friend was thinking this way, what would I say to them?

Have a look at the examples of distorted thinking above, and see if you can recognise yourself in them.

If you can, write down some answers to these questions. Read over what you have written when you feel a bit better – were things as bad as you thought?

Trying to change the way you think is difficult at first, but if you can persevere, it will become easier.


Your doctor may have given you tablets to help with the depression. It is important that you follow the instructions carefully. It is possible to follow the advice given in this leaflet for tackling depression and take medication. Doing both will help you to recover more quickly.

Please contact Alba Psychology to discuss meeting with a Chartered Psychologist to offer treatment based on the principles above