Abnormal Time Experiences in Major Depression: An Empirical Qualitative Study

Giovanni Stanghellini, Massimo Ballerini, Simona Presenza, Milena Mancini, Georg Northoff, John Cutting

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    65 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Phenomenological psychopathology, through theoretical and idiographic studies, conceptualizes major depressive disorder (MDD) as a disorder of time experience. Investigations on abnormal time experience (ATE) in MDD adopting methodologies requested by the standards of empirical sciences are still lacking. Our study aimed to provide a qualitative analysis, on an empirical ground and on a large scale, of narratives of temporal experiences of persons affected by MDD. Methods: We interviewed 550 consecutive patients affected by affective and schizophrenic disorders. Clinical files were analysed by means of consensual qualitative research. Results: Out of 100 MDD patients, 96 reported at least 1 ATE. The principal categories of ATE are vital retardation - the experience of a stagnation of endogenous vital processes (37 patients), the experience of present and future dominated by the past (29 patients), and the experience of the slackening of the flow oftime (25 patients). A comparison with ATE in schizophrenia patients showed that in MDD, unlike in schizophrenia, there is no disarticulation of time experience (disorder of temporal synthesis) but rather a disorder of conation or inhibition of becoming. Limitations: The interview style was not meant to make a quantitative assessment ("false negatives" cannot be excluded). Conclusions: Our findings confirm the relevance of distinctive features of ATE in MDD, support the hypothesis of an intrinsic disordered temporal structure in depressive symptoms, and may have direct implications in clinical practice, especially in relation to differential diagnosis, setting the boundaries between "true" and milder forms of depression, and neurobiological research.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)125-140
    Number of pages16
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2017


    • Abnormal time experience
    • Major depressive disorder Qualitative method
    • Schizophrenia
    • Time perception

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Clinical Psychology
    • Psychiatry and Mental health


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