3 Cognitive Functions to Focus On With Depression

Depression impacts individuals not only emotionally, but cognitively. Research has shown that people living with depression experience cognitive deficits. They may suffer with executive functioning, memory, attention, and processing speed deficits that can negatively impact their ability to function in their everyday lives. Further research suggests that working on cognitive skills may be helpful in improving cognitive functioning in people with depression. In this blog post, we discuss 3 cognitive functions to focus on with your clients battling depression.

1. Executive Functioning

Executive functions are a set of cognitive functions that allow us to plan, make decisions, shift between different tasks, and inhibit behaviors. Researchers have found that people with depression have delayed cognitive processes, struggle shifting between different tasks, and overall behavioral adaptability is weakened. Deficits in executive functioning cause people to have trouble performing more than one task at a time, take risks, and have trouble making important decisions. Working on executive functioning can help your client with depression be able to handle the amount of stimuli they are bombarded with during everyday life and navigate their lives more effectively.

2. Memory and Attention

Memory is used to store and manipulate information for short or long-term use. For example, we use short-term memory to keep track of items already added when we are baking something. In people with depression,  memory is impaired as people may ruminate over depressive thoughts and feelings. This can cause your client to become forgetful, which can then cause your client to experience frustration when forgetfulness has consequences. To help your client improve their memory, research suggests that working with clients on attention by helping them direct their attention towards a task at hand may help them improve their memory, as they will learn to avoid ruminating over depressive thoughts and feelings. 

3. Processing Speed

Depression can cause a person to not only experience physical slowness, but cognitive. Processing speed helps us intake and use information at an efficient rate. We use processing speed for tasks, like driving, to make quick and effective decisions that benefit our wellbeing.  Exercises that address processing speed require a person to attend to stimuli within a short-time frame. Sometimes, processing speed exercises may also challenge someone to attend to more than one stimulus at a time.


Depression is a common psychological condition that people experience due to different causes. Symptoms of depression not only include decreased mood, but also decreased cognitive functioning. 3 cognitive functions commonly impacted by depression include executive functioning, attention, and processing speed. Clients struggling with depression typically consult a psychologist for psychotherapy. Psychologists may want to implement a cognitive remediation therapy program to help their clients address cognitive symptoms that they may experience from depression. You can work on these 4 cognitive functions with your client by using good cognitive therapy worksheets or by using digital cognitive therapy tools.  

Hertel, P. T. (1998). Relation between rumination and impaired memory in dysphoric moods. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107(1), 166.
LeMoult, J., & Gotlib, I. H. (2019). Depression: A cognitive perspective. Clinical Psychology Review, 69, 51-66.
Snyder, H. R. (2013). Major depressive disorder is associated with broad impairments on neuropsychological measures of executive function: a meta-analysis and review. Psychological bulletin, 139(1), 81.
Christine Campbell

Christine is HappyNeuron Pro’s Marketing Specialist. People with intellectual disabilities have a special place in her heart. Growing up with a sibling with an autism diagnosis and intellectual disability influenced the way she views life. She is passionate about educating people about health and sharing cognitive tips.

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