Exposure to interpersonal trauma, attachment insecurity, and depression severity

James Chris Fowler, Jon G. Allen, John M. Oldham, B. Christopher Frueh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


Background: Exposure to traumatic events is a nonspecific risk factor for psychiatric symptoms including depression. The trauma-depression link finds support in numerous studies; however, explanatory mechanisms linking past trauma to current depressive symptoms are poorly understood. This study examines the role that attachment insecurity plays in mediating the relationship between prior exposure to trauma and current expression of depression severity. Methods: Past trauma and attachment anxiety and avoidance were assessed at baseline in a large cohort (N=705) of adults admitted to a specialized adult psychiatric hospital with typical lengths of stay ranging from 6 to 8 weeks. Depression severity was assessed at day 14 of treatment using the Beck Depression Inventory-II. Results: Interpersonal trauma (e.g., assaults, abuse) was correlated with depression severity, whereas exposure to impersonal trauma (e.g., natural disasters, accidents) was not. Adult attachment partially mediated the relationship between past interpersonal trauma and depression severity at day 14 among psychiatric inpatients. Limitations: Measure of trauma exposure did not systematically differentiate the age of exposure or relationship to the perpetrator. Individuals scoring high on the self-report attachment measure may be prone to over-report interpersonal traumas. Conclusions: Treatment of depression in traumatized patients should include an assessment of attachment insecurity and may be fruitful target for intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-318
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Attachment insecurity
  • Depression
  • Trauma exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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