Objective: Deficits in general emotion regulation (ER) skills have been linked to symptoms of depression and are thus considered a promising target in the treatment of Major depressive disorder (MDD). However, at this point, the extent to which such skills are relevant for coping with depression and whether they should instead be considered a transdiagnostic factor remain unclear. Therefore, the present study aimed to investigate whether successful ER skills application is associated with changes in depressive symptom severity (DSS), anxiety symptom severity (ASS), and general distress severity (GDS) over the course of treatment for MDD.
Methods: Successful ER skills application, DSS, ASS, and GDS were assessed four times during the first three weeks of treatment in 175 inpatients who met the criteria for MDD. We computed Pearson correlations to test whether successful ER skills application and the three indicators of psychopathology are cross-sectionally associated. We then performed latent growth curve modelling to test whether changes in successful ER skills application are negatively associated with a reduction of DSS, ASS, or GDS. Finally, we utilized latent change score models to examine whether successful ER skills application predicts subsequent reduction of DSS, ASS, or GDS.
Results: Successful ER skills application was cross-sectionally associated with lower levels of DSS, ASS, and GDS at all points of assessment. An increase in successful skills application during treatment was associated with a decrease in DSS and GDS but not ASS. Finally, successful ER skills application predicted changes in subsequent DSS but neither changes in ASS nor changes in GDS.
Conclusions: Although general ER skills might be relevant for a broad range of psychopathological symptoms, they might be particularly important for the maintenance and treatment of depressive symptoms.