Maladaptive Mood Repair Responses Distinguish Young Adults with Early Onset Depressive Disorders and Predict Future Depressive Outcomes

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Background: Clinical depression involves persistent dysphoria, implicating impaired affect regulation or mood repair failure. However, there is comparatively little information about the mood repair repertoires of individuals with histories of clinical depression, how their repertories differ from that of never-depressed people, and whether particular types of mood repair responses differentially contribute to depression risk.

Method: Adult probands who had childhood-onset depressive disorder (n=215) and controls with no history of major mental disorder (n=122) reported which specific (cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal and somatic-sensory) responses they typically deploy when experiencing sad affect, including responses known to appropriately attenuate dysphoria (‘adaptive’ responses) and those known to exacerbate dysphoria in the short or long run (‘maladaptive’ responses). Subjects were longitudinally followed and evaluated.

Results: Remitted probands and probands in depressive episodes both reported a greater number of maladaptive responses and fewer adaptive responses to their own sadness than did controls, although probands did not have an absolute deficiency of adaptive responses. Maladaptive (but not adaptive) mood repair responses predicted future increases in depression symptoms and an increased probability of a recurrent depressive episode among probands (even after controlling for several clinical predictors of course). Post-hoc analyses revealed that maladaptive non-cognitive and maladaptive cognitive mood repair response sets each predicted depression outcomes.

Conclusions: Individuals with past and present episodes of depressive disorder report an array of cognitive and non-cognitive responses to their own sadness that are likely to exacerbate that affect, and this pattern predicts a worse course of the disorder.

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Psychological Medicine, v. 39, issue 11, p. 1841-1854