Despite the high clinical and epidemiological relevance of persistent depression, little is known about its specific psychopathology and whether it is distinct from recurrent depression. Depression in general has been associated with blunted affective reactivity but the evidence from previous studies is inconsistent. Here, we asked whether affective reactivity might differ between persistent and recurrent depression.
Twenty patients with persistent depression, 20 patients with recurrent depression and 20 healthy controls (HC) were recruited. Both patient groups showed moderate symptom severity. All participants underwent a sad mood induction procedure. Affective reactivity was assessed with the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) before and after mood induction.
We found a striking difference in affective reactivity between patient groups. While the persistent group showed blunted reactivity to mood induction, the recurrent group demonstrated an affective response that was comparable to HC, with an increase in negative and a decrease in positive affect. Blunted affective reactivity was thus specifically associated with persistent in contrast to recurrent depression.
These results highlight affective reactivity as an important psychopathological feature that differs between the two patient groups. Preserved affective reactivity to emotional stimuli in the recurrent group might reflect a resilience factor against persistence of depression.