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Rehabil Psychol. 2014 Feb;59(1):35-41. doi: 10.1037/a0034438. Epub 2013 Dec 9.

The personal importance of being independent: associations with changes in disability and depressive symptoms.

Author information

  • 1Yale School of Public Health, Yale School of Medicine.
  • 2Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh.
  • 3Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
  • 4Department of Psychology, St. Joseph's College.
  • 5Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.



This study examined the role of independence centrality (the personal importance of being functionally independent) in adapting to functional disability in persons with spinal cord injury (SCI). We assessed how changes in disability related to changes in depressive symptoms, the association between independence centrality and depressive symptoms, and the role of independence centrality in moderating the association between changes in disability and changes in depressive symptoms.


Using data from a randomized controlled trial, we focused on 173 survivors of SCI who completed baseline and 12-month follow-up measures of independence centrality, disability (activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living needs), and depressive symptoms.


Consistent with our predictions, increased disability was related to increased depressive symptoms, and higher independence centrality was associated with more depressive symptoms at baseline. Consistent with the life span theory of control, SCI survivors with high independence centrality experienced more depressive symptoms when disability increased, but less depressive symptoms when disability decreased. Survivors of SCI with low independence centrality were less affected by changing levels of disability.


Persons with SCI with high independence centrality have higher levels of depressive symptoms and are more responsive to changes in functional status. Given the functional status trajectories of survivors of SCI, having low independence centrality may be adaptive because it facilitates disengagement from unattainable goals.

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