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Dissociative symptoms are common in people with depression, study finds

“Ungroup” has become a buzzword on the internet, but what does it mean and is it really common? A study published in the Psychiatric Research Journal suggests that this mental disconnect may be very common in people with depressive symptoms.

Dissociation is a word used to describe mental detachment or separation. It’s a popular word on social media now, and it can be used to describe normal forgetfulness, daydreaming, or distraction. It also has a pathological definition, which can include amnesia, hearing voices, flashbacks, derealization, depersonalization, identity fragmentation and more.

These symptoms may be associated with trauma or significant stress. Depression, which many people suffer from and can be very difficult to treat, can also encompass these pathological dissociative symptoms. This study aimed to explore the relationships between dissociative symptoms, depression, trauma, and other potential mediating factors.

Hong Wang Fung and colleagues used 410 adult participants with clinically significant levels of self-reported depressive symptoms. Participants were recruited online and completed their web survey. Measures included questionnaires regarding sociodemographic information, symptoms of depression, dissociative symptoms, traumatic experiences, interpersonal stress, family support, and perceived benefits of psychiatric medication.

The results showed that the majority of participants reported experiencing clinically significant levels of dissociative symptoms. Some dissociative symptoms, such as disengagement and depersonalization, were very common and were found in more than 70% of participants, while others, such as identity dissociation, were much rarer. This study found differences between participants who had high and low levels of dissociative symptoms.

Participants reporting higher levels of dissociation also reported higher levels of childhood and adult trauma, interpersonal stress, PTSD symptoms, and depressive symptoms. This leads to the idea that dissociative symptoms could potentially be one of the reasons why depression can be difficult to treat. Additionally, emotional constriction, a dissociative symptom, has been shown to be linked to decreased perceived benefits of psychiatric medications, which also has implications for treatment.

This study provided insight into the prevalence of dissociative symptoms in people with depression. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One of these limitations is that the sample was recruited online and was not a clinical sample. With self-reported symptoms, it is difficult to say whether all participants would meet the diagnostic criteria for depression or dissociative symptoms. Additionally, individuals with more severe mental health conditions were excluded, and due to the distressing nature of dissociative symptomatology, this generalizability may be limited.

“This study contributes to the literature by systematically investigating the prevalence and correlates of dissociative symptoms in a sample of people with depressive symptoms,” the researchers concluded. “Dissociative symptoms were positively correlated with trauma, stress, and trauma-related symptoms in our sample. Individuals with depression should be screened for dissociative symptoms to ensure timely interventions to address trauma and dissociation and their associated symptoms, as needed.

The study, “Prevalence and Correlates of Dissociative Symptoms in People with Depression,” was authored by Hong Wang Fung, Wai Tong Chien, Stanley Kam Ki Lam, Colin A. Ross.

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