October 9, 2021

Psychological disorders like depression and anxiety are becoming more prevalent in society, and this is not due to any changes in the way people experience themselves, according to a study from the University of Exeter. 

Researchers have long known that people tend to have high rates of depression and high rates in anxiety, and the number of people diagnosed with depression in the UK has doubled since 2010.

The study found that people with these disorders were more likely than the general population to experience distress or distress-related negative emotions, which can include fear, anxiety and anger.

This can cause people to feel ‘frosty’ and ‘scared’, the researchers said.

But this may not be what people are actually experiencing. 

The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience, found that emotional expressions and reactions to stress were more consistent between people with and without psychological disorders.

These reactions to stressful events were more positive and less negative than in the general populations, the researchers found.

The researchers also looked at the relationship between the severity of an emotional reaction and the intensity of the emotional response. 

In the general group, people who showed more emotional reactivity tended to have higher levels of depression than those who were more emotional reactive.

However, when people were more anxious, the intensity was also more correlated with the severity, suggesting that anxiety itself may trigger an emotional response, the study found.

This research suggests that the underlying mechanisms that underlie people’s reactions to distress are different to those in people with psychological disorders who are more reactive, according Dr Paul R. Taylor, from the Department of Psychological Sciences at Exeter, who led the research. 

“People who experience anxiety often have different ways of feeling,” he said.

“They may have a strong desire to be calmer and less distressed, and that may lead to an overall reduction in anxiety. 

This may help people cope with a more distressing situation or cope better in the long run.”

People with mental health problems have different reactions to anxiety, as we know from research that shows that those with severe mental health conditions are more likely in the treatment setting to respond to anxiety therapeutically.”‘

Theoretical models’ of emotion have also helped to understand what is happening to people with depression, the researcher said.

However this research, he added, was based on an assumption that people are just more likely when they are stressed to react in the positive way that is normally associated with stress.”

It may be that people who are experiencing stressful events tend to be more anxious and are less able to cope with it,” Dr Taylor said.

He said it would be useful to look at how these theories may change with the development of new and better treatments.”

We may need to be able to make people who have mental health difficulties, or those who are at risk of experiencing stress, more sensitive to those stressors,” he added.