Because depressive illness is recurrent, recurrence prevention should be a mainstay for reducing its burden on society. One way to reach this goal is to identify malleable risk factors. The ability to attenuate sadness/dysphoria (mood repair) and parasympathetic nervous system functioning, indexed as respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), are impaired during depression and after it has remitted. The present study therefore tested the hypothesis that these two constructs also may mirror risk factors for a recurrent major depressive episode (MDE).
At time 1 (T1), 178 adolescents, whose last MDE had remitted, and their parents, reported on depression and mood repair; youths’ RSA at rest and in response to sad mood induction also were assessed. MDE recurrence was monitored until time 2 (T2) up to 2 years later. Mood repair at T1 (modeled as a latent construct), and resting RSA and RSA response to sadness induction (RSA profile), served to predict onset of first recurrent MDE by T2.
Consistent with expectations, maladaptive mood repair predicted recurrent MDE, above and beyond T1 depression symptoms. Further, atypical RSA profiles at T1 were associated with high levels of maladaptive mood repair, which, in turn, predicted increased risk of recurrent MDE. Thus, maladaptive mood repair mediated the effects of atypical RSA on risk of MDE recurrence.
This study documented that a combination of behavioral and physiological risk factors predicted MDE recurrence in a previously clinically referred sample of adolescents with depression histories. Because mood repair and RSA are malleable, both could be targeted for modification to reduce the risk of recurrent depression in youths.