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J Nerv Ment Dis. 1997 Feb;185(2):87-94.

Defense style in depressed and anxious psychiatric outpatients: an explorative study.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Leiden University, The Netherlands.


The aim of the present study was threefold: (a) to investigate whether anxiety or depressive disorders are related to the use of specific defenses; (b) to evaluate which defenses are associated with self-report measures for anxiety and depression; and (c) to assess whether the association between defenses and anxiety or depression is gender specific. Subjects were 483 consecutive psychiatric outpatients with the following DSM-III-R diagnoses: (a) V-code or no psychiatric diagnosis (N = 71) (controls); (b) one or two anxiety diagnoses (N = 116), among which 47 patients with a single diagnosis of panic disorder; (c) one or two depressive disorder diagnoses (N = 93), among which 35 patients with a single diagnosis of dysthymia and 51 with a single diagnosis of major depression; and (d) 203 otherwise. Defense use was measured with the Defense Style Questionnaire-36 and level of anxiety and depression with the Symptom Checklist-90. Compared to controls, anxiety and depressive disorder patients scored higher for the immature defense style. Moreover, anxiety disorder patients obtained significantly higher scores for the neurotic defense style than both depressive disorder patients and controls. Panic patients made more use of the defense mechanisms of somatization, devaluation, and idealization, and dysthymic patients of somatization, devaluation, and isolation. Both anxiety and depression scores were positively related to the immature and neurotic, and negatively to the mature defense style. Anxiety was predominantly related to somatization and depression to projection. No evidence for a gender specific association between defense and anxiety or depression was found. It is concluded that the observed differences in defense between groups may be a consequence of the nature of the psychiatric disorder irrespective of gender. Prospective studies of persons at risk are needed to evaluate whether specific defenses are predictive of anxiety or depressive disorders and/or symptoms.

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