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A Novel Examination of Atypical Major Depressive Disorder Based on Attachment Theory
Objective: While a large body of descriptive work has thoroughly investigated the clinical correlates of atypical depression, little is known about its fundamental origins. This study examined atypical depression from an attachment theory framework. Our hypothesis was that, compared to adults with melancholic depression, those with atypical depression would report more anxious-ambivalent attachment and less secure attachment. As gender has been an important consideration in prior work on atypical depression, this same hypothesis was further tested in female subjects only.
Method: One hundred ninety-nine consecutive adults presenting to a tertiary mood disorders clinic with major depressive disorder with either atypical or melancholic features according to the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis-I Disorders were administered a self-report adult attachment questionnaire to assess the core dimensions of secure, anxious-ambivalent, and avoidant attachment. Attachment scores were compared across the 2 depressed groups defined by atypical and melancholic features using multivariate analysis of variance. The study was conducted between 1999 and 2004.
Results: When men and women were considered together, the multivariate test comparing attachment scores by depressive group was statistically significant at p <.05. Between-subjects testing indicated that atypical depression was associated with significantly lower secure attachment scores, with a trend toward higher anxious-ambivalent attachment scores, than was melancholia. When women were analyzed separately, the multivariate test was statistically significant at p <.01, with both secure and anxious-ambivalent attachment scores differing significantly across depressive groups.
Conclusion: These preliminary findings suggest that attachment theory, and insecure and anxious-ambivalent attachment in particular, may be a useful framework from which to study the origins, clinical correlates, and treatment of atypical depression. Gender may be an important consideration when considering atypical depression from an attachment perspective.