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Adult attachment style. I: Its relationship to clinical depression


Background Although there are an increasing number of studies showing an association of adult attachment style to depressive disorder, such studies have rarely utilised epidemiological approaches with large community-based series and have relied heavily on brief self-report measurement of both attachment style and symptoms. The result is a wide inconsistency in the type of insecure style shown to relate to disorder. The present study examined adult attachment style in a high-risk community sample of women in relation to clinical depression. It utilised an interview measure of adult attachment which allowed for an assessment of both type of attachment style and the degree of insecurity of attachment. A companion paper examines its relationship with other depressive-vulnerability (Bifulco et al. 2002). Method Two hundred and twenty-two high-risk and 80 comparison women were selected from questionnaire screenings of London GP patient lists and intensively interviewed. A global scale of attachment style based on supportive relationships (with partner and very close others) together with attitudes to support-seeking, derived the four styles paralleling those from self-report attachment assessments (Secure, Enmeshed, Fearful, Avoidant). In order to additionally reflect hostility in the scheme, the Avoidant category was subdivided into “Angry-dismissive” and “Withdrawn”. The degree to which attitudes and behaviour within such styles were dysfunctional (“non-standard”) was also assessed. Attachment style was examined in relation to clinical depression in a 12-month period. For a third of the series this was examined prospectively to new onset of disorder. Results The presence of any insecure style was significantly related to 12-month depression. However, when controls were made for depressive symptomatology at interview, only the “non-standard” levels of Enmeshed, Fearful or Angry-dismissive styles related to disorder. Withdrawn-avoidance was not significantly related to disorder. Conclusion The relationship of attachment style to clinical depression is increased by differentiating the degree of insecurity of style and differentiating hostile and non-hostile avoidance.

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Accepted: 21 September 2001

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Bifulco, A., Moran, P., Ball, C. et al. Adult attachment style. I: Its relationship to clinical depression. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 37, 50–59 (2002).

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  • Key words attachment style – interview measurement – support – depression