When you’re depressed, literally and figuratively stuck in a dark place, with no desire to get out and experience the world, it feels like time is inching by. Seconds feel like minutes, minutes feel like hours, and hours feel like days.
Apparently, though, it’s not just a feeling. It’s a very real perception of time.
New research from psychologists at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany shows that depressed people actually experience time differently than healthy individuals.
The scientists analyzed the results of 16 different studies examining 433 depressed subjects and 485 non-depressed control subjects. For the first part of the study, subjects were surveyed on their perception of time.
“Psychiatrists and psychologists in hospitals and private practices repeatedly report that depressed patients feel that time only creeps forward slowly or is passing in slow motion,” reported study author Dr. Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel. The results of the meta-analysis confirmed that this is indeed the case.
Then, for the second part of the study, they asked the subjects to subjectively estimate the length of a movie in minutes, press a button for five seconds, or identify the length of different sounds. In this case, the results obtained from the depressed patients were the same as the non-depressed subjects. This indicates that depressed patients can can actually differentiate between the duration of a specific time interval, such as two seconds or two minutes, from their own skewed perception of time.
Future research, the authors say, should focus on the effects of antidepressants and psychotherapy on time perception and on how bipolar patients assess the passage of time compared to people without the condition.
For now, though, it’s important to understand the idea at the core of this study: that the effects of depression are not only real — they literally change the way a person sees the world.