Lost in Thought: Susan Nolen-Hoeksema on Depresssion

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Tuesday, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D. and Professor of Psychology at Yale University came to speak at Swarthmore. Her lecture was entitled “Lost in Thought: Rumination and Depression.” Swarthmore Professor Andrew Ward introduced her as the “world’s leading psychological expert on gender and depression.”

Nolen-Hoeksema’s lecture focused on rumination and its connection to mood regulation and depression. As she defined it, rumination is a sort of opposite of suppression and a focus on one’s distress and its “possible causes and consequences.” According to her, people who ruminate get stuck in a cycle of thinking about their problems and, as a result, make it worse by creating negative thinking and a decreased ability to problem solve, as well as by driving people away.

After outlining her lecture, Nolen-Hoeksema reviewed a large number of studies that focused on ruminative responses, the causes of rumination, and the effects of rumination. She highlighted that people who ruminate had more depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after natural disasters and had a harder time with depression after deaths of family members. People who ruminate are less optimistic and more likely to blame themselves for bad things that happen to them. They are more likely to engage in escapist strategies such as alcohol abuse, bulimia and anorexia, substance abuse, non-suicidal self injury, and suicidal thoughts.

Nolen-Hoeksema finished her lecture by reviewing treatments for people who ruminate, saying that they were ways to help oneself or a family member or friend who tends to ruminate. Some of the ways to help, she said, are distraction, like going to the gym, meditation, cognitive restructuring where one challenges the truth-value of one’s ruminations, and problem solving therapy. The event closed with questions from the audience.


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