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Social Cognition and Interpersonal Problems in Persistent Depressive Disorder vs. Episodic Depression: The Role of Childhood Maltreatment

  • Objective: Little is known about the specific psychological features that differentiate persistent depressive disorder (PDD) and episodic depression (ED). Thus, the present study aimed to investigate differences in social cognition and interpersonal problems between these two forms of depression and healthy controls. In addition, we aimed to examine childhood maltreatment (CM) as a possible origin of these alterations. Methods: In a cross-sectional study, adult patients with a current PDD (n = 34) or in a current episode of ED (n = 38), and healthy controls (n = 39) completed questionnaires about depression severity, empathy, interpersonal problems, and CM, as well as tests of affective theory of mind and facial emotion recognition. Results: Patients with PDD reported higher empathic distress than patients with ED and healthy controls. Both depressive groups recognized angry faces with higher accuracy and reported more interpersonal problems, with no differences between PDD and ED. Empathic distress and interpersonal problems mediated the link between CM and depression in the combined sample. Limitations: Patient groups were not drug-naïve and antidepressant intake might have influenced social-cognitive functions. Self-report measures of empathy and interpersonal problems are vulnerable to bias. The cross-sectional design does not allow causal conclusions. Conclusion: Depressed patients may not show deficits in decoding the affective states of others and in feeling with others. However, depressed individuals—in particular patients with PDD—may feel easily overwhelmed by emotionally tense situations, resulting in empathic distress and avoidant/submissive interpersonal behavior. Exposure to CM might be an origin of alterations in social cognition and interpersonal problems.

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Author: Nele Struck, Thomas Gärtner, Tilo Kircher, Eva-Lotta Brakemeier
Parent Title (English):Frontiers in Psychiatry
Publisher:Frontiers Media S.A.
Document Type:Article
Date of first Publication:2021/01/25
Release Date:2021/02/16
Tag:childhood maltreatment, empathy, interpersonal problems, persistent depressive disorder, social cognition
GND Keyword:-
Faculties:Universitätsmedizin / Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung