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Prevalence and correlates of depersonalization in students aged 12–18 years in Germany

Abstract

Background

Depersonalization (DP) involves unpleasant experiences of detachment from one’s sense of self or unreality in the environment. DP may occur in a broad range of conditions, among healthy persons due to sleep loss, drug induced, secondary to anxiety disorders or primary in depersonalization disorder. Although DP has an early age of onset, little is known about the prevalence and correlates of DP among adolescents.

Methods

Between January and June 2011, we conducted a questionnaire-based representative survey of pupils aged 12–18 years in the federal state Rhineland-Palatinate of Germany. The final sample comprised 3,809 pupils. We analyzed the prevalence of depersonalization and its correlates regarding sociodemographic characteristics, substance abuse, global mental distress and resilience factors.

Results

One-third of the sample showed severe global mental distress, and 11.9 % were in the range of clinically significant depersonalization. Depersonalized students were less often living with both parents (67.3 vs. 75.7 %), came more often from an disadvantaged socioeconomic background, had a very severe level of global mental distress (comparable to psychiatric inpatients), were more often smoking and abusing cannabis and they suffered from specific impairments regarding social insecurity, global self-efficacy and active coping abilities.

Conclusions

Experiences of depersonalization were very common among adolescents and may indicate an increased risk for poor academic achievement and mental health in the long term. Prospective studies are needed to investigate the course and clinical relevance of depersonalization for the development of the adolescents.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the ministry of Social Affairs, Labour, Health and Demography of Rhineland-Palatinate.

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Matthias Michal.

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Michal, M., Duven, E., Giralt, S. et al. Prevalence and correlates of depersonalization in students aged 12–18 years in Germany. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 50, 995–1003 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-014-0957-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-014-0957-2

Keywords

  • Depersonalization
  • School
  • Cannabis
  • Smoking
  • Coping
  • General self-efficacy
  • Resilience