Objective: Although previous studies have shown that dysthymia, or chronic depression, commonly responds to antidepressant medications (with improvements in depressive symptoms and psychosocial functioning), there have been no systematic studies of the impact of antidepressant treatment on personality variables in patients with this disorder.
Method: In a multicenter study, 410 patients with early-onset primary dysthymia were treated in a randomized prospective fashion with sertraline, imipramine, or placebo. The data were analyzed in terms of the subjects' scores on the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire, a 100-item self-report instrument that measures four temperamental dimensions: harm avoidance, reward dependence, novelty seeking, and persistence.
Results: At baseline, the harm avoidance scores of the dysthymic subjects were approximately 1.5 standard deviations higher than those of a previously reported community sample. After treatment, there was a significant decrease in harm avoidance scores, with no significant between-group differences. Remission of dysthymia was associated with significantly greater improvement in harm avoidance, with the greatest numerical change found in the patients treated with sertraline. Subjects' Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire scores were correlated at a 0.50 level with the Social Adjustment Scale both pre- and posttreatment, suggesting that a high degree of harm avoidance may be associated with poor social functioning.
Conclusions: Before treatment, chronically depressed patients demonstrate an abnormality in temperament, as measured by elevated degrees of harm avoidance. Remission of dysthymia is associated with improvement in this aspect of temperament.