Understanding emotion and emotional scarring in recurrent depression

Gerard D van Rijsbergen, Steven D Hollon, Hermien J Elgersma, Gemma D Kok, Jack Dekker, Aart H Schene, Claudi L H Bockting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: A single-item assessment of sad mood after remission from MDD is predictive of relapse, yet the mechanisms that play a role in depressive relapse remain poorly understood.

METHODS: In 283 patients, remitted from recurrent depression (DSM-IV-TR criteria; HAM-D17 score ≤10), we examined emotional scarring, that is, whether the number of previous depressive episodes was associated with higher levels of sad mood as assessed with a 1-item Visual Analogue Mood Scale (VAMS). We then fitted a cross-sectional multivariate regression model to predict sad mood levels, including the Dysfunctional Attitude Scale Version-A, cognitive reactivity (Leiden Index of Depression Sensitivity), Ruminative Response Scale, and Everyday Problem Checklist.

RESULTS: Patients with greater numbers of prior episodes experienced higher levels of sad mood after remission. In multivariate regression, intensity of daily stress and dysfunctional beliefs were associated with the VAMS (Adj. R(2)=.091) although not over and above depressive symptomatology (Adj. R(2)=.114). Cognitive reactivity was not associated with sadness.

CONCLUSIONS: Our finding that patients with more previous MDEs reported higher levels of sad mood while remitted could be indicative of emotional scarring. Dysfunctional beliefs and intensity of daily stress were associated with sad mood but not over and above residual symptoms. Thus, illness related characteristics especially are associated with sad mood after remission. More negative affect after remission could result in lower stress tolerance or more stress intensity could result in negative affect. Future studies should examine premorbid sadness in a longitudinal cohort, and should study the exact pathway from stress, affect, and cognition to relapse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-61
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - May 2015


  • Emotion
  • Affect
  • scarring
  • relapse
  • depression
  • emotion regulation
  • stress


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