E-mail communications among people with and without major depressive disorder



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Social interactions affect the onset and maintenance of major depressive disorder (MDD; e.g., Hammen, 2006). However, little research has examined depressed people’s communications in daily life. This dissertation’s primary aim is to test three models of the association between MDD and everyday communication. The disclosure model suggests that people with MDD, particularly if currently depressed, communicate about themselves and their distress. The social disengagement model suggests that people with MDD, particularly if currently depressed, communicate less. The selectivity model suggests that people with MDD, particularly if currently depressed, communicate more negatively only with people with whom they have closer relationships. This dissertation’s second aim is to investigate associations between communication patterns of individuals with MDD and residual depressive symptoms. Sixteen women with MDD and 15 never-depressed women submitted a year’s worth of their e-mails with up to ten correspondents. For participants with MDD the year included at least one month of depression and one month of remission. E-mails were submitted to computerized text analysis. For the primary research question, the study design was conceptualized as a 2x2 between-subjects (MDD vs. never-depressed) x within-subjects (currently depressed vs. not currently depressed) ANOVA missing one cell (never-depressed individuals with currently depression). Data were e-mails nested within correspondents within participants and were analyzed using multi-level regression. For the second research question, OLS regression analyses were used. People with MDD e-mailed their correspondents marginally more frequently when in a depressive episode, suggesting increased efforts at engagement. During episodes, however, participants showed less verbal synchrony with their correspondents. This suggests that despite reaching out more, currently depressed people are less attuned with others. People with major depressive disorder used more positive emotion words and fewer negative emotion words than never-depressed controls. Although there was a general pattern among participants of using more negative emotion words with correspondents with whom they had closer relationships, this tendency was accentuated in depressed individuals in current major depressive episodes. These findings are consistent with the view that individuals – particularly when depressed – regulate aspects of their communication to protect and manage their social relationships.