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Understanding anhedonia: a qualitative study exploring loss of interest and pleasure in adolescent depression

Watson, R., Harvey, K. ORCID:, McCabe, C. ORCID: and Reynolds, S. (2020) Understanding anhedonia: a qualitative study exploring loss of interest and pleasure in adolescent depression. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 29 (4). pp. 489-499. ISSN 1435-165X

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s00787-019-01364-y


Anhedonia (or loss of interest and pleasure) is a core symptom of depression and may predict poor treatment outcome. However, little is known about the subjective experience of anhedonia, and it is rarely targeted in psychological treatment for depression. The aim of this study is to examine how young people experience anhedonia in the context of depression. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 34 adolescents with a primary diagnosis of depression (N=12) or elevated depressive symptoms (N=22). Thematic analysis was used to identify important aspects of adolescents’ experiences. Four main themes were identified: 1) Experiencing a loss of joy and a flattening of emotion; 2) Struggling with motivation and active engagement; 3) Losing a sense of connection and belonging; 4) Questioning sense of self, purpose, and the bigger picture. The results challenge the framing of anhedonia as simply the loss of interest and pleasure. Adolescents reported a range of experiences that mapped closely onto the cluster of negative symptoms associated with schizophrenia and were similar to the sense of ‘apathy’ characteristic in Parkinson’s disease. This highlights the potential benefit of taking a trans-diagnostic approach to understanding and treating reward deficits associated with mental health problems.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Psychopathology and Affective Neuroscience
ID Code:84596


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