Cognitive performance in antidepressant-free recurrent major depressive disorder

Depress Anxiety. 2018 Aug;35(8):694-699. doi: 10.1002/da.22747. Epub 2018 Apr 10.


Background: Cognitive complaints are common in depression, and cognition may be an important treatment target as cognitive problems often remain during remission and may contribute to recurrence risk. Previous studies of cognitive performance in depression have mainly examined late-life depression, with a focus on older adults, or assessed performance in specific cognitive tasks rather than cognitive domains.

Methods: This study examined cognitive performance across multiple cognitive domains in antidepressant-free depressed adults with early onset recurrent depression compared to never-depressed controls. Domain scores were calculated for episodic memory, executive function, processing speed, and working memory, and the effect of depression diagnosis, depression severity, and depression duration on each domain score was examined, including interactions with age, sex, and education.

Results: Currently depressed adults (n = 91) exhibited poorer performance in the processing speed domain compared with never-depressed adults (n = 105). Additionally, there was an interactive effect of depression duration and age on processing speed and executive function domain performance, such that performance was worse with older age and longer duration of depression. There were no effects of depression severity on performance across the cognitive domains.

Conclusions: These findings support that processing speed deficits appear in young adults with early onset depression that may not be related to current mood. Additionally, the effects of cumulative depressive episodes may interact with aging such that cognitive performance deficits worsen with recurrence over the lifespan.

Keywords: antidepressants; cognition; depression; mood disorders; quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / complications
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult