What are Depression Thoughts? How Do They Affect You?

Depression thoughts keep people stuck in depression. Learn the nature and types of depression thoughts and how they affect you on HealthyPlace.

Depression thoughts are the words and images in our head that dominate during depression. They are loud, obnoxious, negative, and hurtful. They’re one of the components of depression that wreak the most havoc on people living with depression.

Depressive disorders involve someone’s emotions, thoughts, physical body, and behaviors. Each of these elements is important and contributes to the experience of depression, just as each of them plays a role in overcoming the illness. Depression thoughts, however, are often considered to take the lead in depression’s charge against people.

Thoughts are considered by many in the mental health field to come before feelings, motivation, and actions (Marano, 2001). In depression, people commonly feel very low, beyond ordinary sadness, and often lack the energy necessary to work, care for self and family, and do various daily tasks. These depression symptoms are brain-based in multiple ways: Changes in the structure, balance, and electrical activity of the physical brain cause depression symptoms, and the onset of depression thoughts causes negative emotions and other symptoms of depression. The thoughts that are part of depression have a specific nature that makes them depressive.

Nature and Types of Depression Thoughts

Depression thoughts are negative and pessimistic. If they were fleeting, that wouldn’t be a problem. In depression, though, negativity dominates because depression involves what’s known as cognitive biases: the mind notices the negative so much that it stops noticing the positive. The senses home in on anything undesirable, filters out positive information, and puts its own negative twist on anything neutral. Negative and pessimistic thoughts arise and dominate thinking patterns and interpretations of situations. They also stick and people ruminate over them, thinking them repeatedly as they become further ingrained.

The negative thoughts of depression (and anxiety and other mental disorders) are often referred to as automatic negative thoughts, or ANTS. Types of problematic thoughts include:

  • Labeling (negative labels applied to yourself or others)
  • Jumping to conclusions or catastrophizing (assuming the worst possible outcome in a given situation)
  • Personalization (blaming yourself or others for something rather than looking at all possibilities)
  • “Should” statements (imposing rules on how things, including yourself, should be)
  • All-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking (thinking in extremes with no possibilities in between the extremes)
  • Mind-reading (assuming that you know what someone is thinking, and it’s never good)

Depression thoughts are often turned inward so that someone with depression thinks and believes harsh things about themselves. “I’m worthless,” “Everyone would be better off without me,” “I ruin everything, and “I don’t deserve to get better,” are just a few self-defeating depression thoughts that keep depression going strong.

Negative depression thoughts cause the despair and hopelessness that characterize depression. Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware of this cognitive bias that is coloring thoughts and feelings. Without awareness of the negativity bias, people believe their thoughts, reasoning that if they think something, it must be true. Without awareness, it’s also difficult to see that these pessimistic thoughts are what’s causing terrible feelings.

Understanding the depression’s cognitive bias and knowing different types of depression thoughts will help you change your thoughts and reduce depression.

Override Your Automatic Negative Thoughts

Depression thoughts are automatic. They creep in insidiously, and people are often unaware of how negative their thinking has become. Before they realize it, their thoughts become an ingrained habit.
This means that if you are experiencing depression thoughts, you’re not thinking this way on purpose.

It also means that, while you are thinking these thoughts, they’re not actually yours but instead are part of the illness. That’s significant because it means you can take control back and change your depression thoughts to realistic, positive thoughts.

The basic premise underlying changing thoughts is to increase your awareness of them, learn to catch yourself thinking depression thoughts, and then replace the negative, pessimistic ones with realistic positive, optimistic ones.

It’s possible to do this process on your own, but it can be helpful to work with a therapist, enlist the help of a support group, or use workbooks, journals, and other tools to eradicate depressive thoughts and take back your positive life.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, December 30). What are Depression Thoughts? How Do They Affect You?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Last Updated: January 9, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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