Optical illusion reveals how depression can change how you physically see the world03/31/2021
IF you've ever struggled with depression then you'll know all too well how the mental illness can make your world feel dull and grey.
But according to a new study, depression can actually have an impact on how you physically see.
In a study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, a group of Finnish researchers tested the visual perception of people with and without depression.
The first test – named 'contrast induction' – saw two squares labelled A and B placed inside two larger grey squares.
Although the larger squares were different colours, the two squares inside are the same – but the human brain usually perceives B as darker as a result of the lighter background.
Researchers found that both groups were mostly able to tell the difference between the two squares – but the same couldn't be said for the 'contrast suppression' test.
In the second test, participants were presented with two more identical squares C and D containing vertical lines.
But square C was set against a matching background, D was imposed against horizontal lines.
As a result, the lines in square D are usually perceived as much bolder because of the contrast.
However, researchers found that depressed patients generally struggled to see this.
Symptoms of depression and where to get help:
Depression is not just a feeling of unhappiness or being a bit fed up for a few days – which is common and totally normal.
Those who are suffering from depression can suffer from an immense feeling of sadness that can last for weeks and maybe even months.
Everyone is different and the condition can manifest itself in different ways but is often described as a total disconnect from all feelings of happiness.
The NHS warns against trivialising depression as not a genuine health problem on its website: "Some people think depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They're wrong – it is a real illness with real symptoms."
The symptoms for depression can be varied in different people.
A lot of people suffer from a lasting feeling of hopelessness and can sometimes lose interest in things that previously made them happy.
Sufferers can also become teary and struggle with the symptoms of anxiety.
Physical symptoms can include tiredness, poor sleeping patterns, lack of appetite and sex drive, as well as aches and pains.
At its most severe patients can become suicidal.
If you are concerned that you are suffering from depression, you should speak to a doctor immediately.
If you are worried about a loved one, you can call advice services like Samaritans for free on 116 123.
The scientists believe an episode of depression impacts how the cerebral cortex in the brain processes visual contrasts.
The University of Helsinki's Academy Research Fellow Viljami Salmela said: "What came as a surprise was that depressed patients perceived the contrast of the images shown differently from non-depressed individuals."
The paper read: "Because contrast suppression is orientation-specific and relies on cortical processing, our results suggest that people experiencing a major depressive episode have normal retinal processing but altered cortical contrast normalisation."
However, they are confident the patient's ability to spot visual contrasts would partially come back once they've recovered from that depressive episode.
111 people took part in the study who had experienced depression or depressive episodes as a result of bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
A further 29 people who didn't have a history of depression were also recruited for the scientists to use for comparison.
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