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J Affect Disord. 2008 Sep;110(1-2):36-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2007.12.239. Epub 2008 Feb 14.

Cognitive functioning in a population-based sample of young adults with a history of non-psychotic unipolar depressive disorders without psychiatric comorbidity.

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  • 1Department of Mental Health and Alcohol Research, National Public Health Institute, Helsinki, Finland. anu.castaneda@ktl.fi



There is evidence for cognitive dysfunction in unipolar depression among middle-aged and elderly patients, but cognitive functioning among depressed young adults has scarcely been systematically investigated. The aims of the present study were to examine cognitive functioning among depressed young adults identified from the general population and to determine whether cognitive deficits vary as a function of different disorder characteristics, such as severity and age at onset.


Performance in verbal and visual short-term memory, verbal long-term memory and learning, attention, processing speed, and executive functioning was compared between a population-based sample of 21-35-year-olds with a lifetime history of non-psychotic unipolar depressive disorders without psychiatric comorbidity (n=68) and healthy controls derived from the same population (n=70).


Depressed young adults were not found to be impaired in any of the assessed cognitive functions, except for some suggestion of mildly compromised verbal learning. Nevertheless, younger age at depression onset was associated with more impaired executive functioning.


The results may slightly underestimate of the true association between depression and cognitive impairments in the young adult population due to possible dropout of participants. Additionally, the problem of multiple testing was not entirely corrected.


The findings from this study indicate that a lifetime history of non-psychotic unipolar depressive disorders among young adults without psychiatric comorbidity may be associated only with minimal cognitive deficits, even when some residual depressive symptoms are prevalent. However, early-onset depression may represent a more severe form of the disorder, associated with more cognitive dysfunction.

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