Critical slowing down as early warning for the onset and termination of depression

Ingrid A. van de Leemput*, Marieke Wichers, Angelique O. J. Cramer, Denny Borsboom, Francis Tuerlinckx, Peter Kuppens, Egbert H. van Nes, Wolfgang Viechtbauer, Erik J. Giltay, Steven H. Aggen, Catherine Derom, Nele Jacobs, Kenneth S. Kendler, Han L. J. van der Maas, Michael C. Neale, Frenk Peeters, Evert Thiery, Peter Zachar, Marten Scheffer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

48 Downloads (Pure)


About 17% of humanity goes through an episode of major depression at some point in their lifetime. Despite the enormous societal costs of this incapacitating disorder, it is largely unknown how the likelihood of falling into a depressive episode can be assessed. Here, we show for a large group of healthy individuals and patients that the probability of an upcoming shift between a depressed and a normal state is related to elevated temporal autocorrelation, variance, and correlation between emotions in fluctuations of autorecorded emotions. These are indicators of the general phenomenon of critical slowing down, which is expected to occur when a system approaches a tipping point. Our results support the hypothesis that mood may have alternative stable states separated by tipping points, and suggest an approach for assessing the likelihood of transitions into and out of depression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-92
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2014


  • early warning signals
  • experience sampling method
  • critical transitions
  • positive feedback

Cite this