The relationship between autobiographical memory and depression in survivors of childhood sexual abuse
Overgeneral autobiographical memory (AM) style has been observed in depressed clinical groups when compared with controls. It has been proposed that an overgeneral style is the consequence of traumatic experiences in childhood and serves to minimise the affect associated with painful memories. It has also been suggested that overgeneral AM results in poor problem solving ability and is therefore an indicator of vulnerability to depression. This thesis reviews the evidence relevant to these propositions and in particular considers whether overgeneral AM is capable of longer term protection against distress, or is more importantly a vulnerability factor as suggested by its association with poor problem solving. To examine this issue, 41 women who had reported childhood sexual abuse (CSA) as participants in a previous study, completed the Autobiographical Memory Test (AMT) and were interviewed about adult episodes of major depression using the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia - Lifetime version. Current depression was assessed using the 13 item Beck Depression Inventory. Women not reporting depression in adulthood gave significantly fewer specific responses to negative cue words (but not positive or neutral cue words) than those reporting episodes which fulfilled DSM-I V diagnostic criteria for major depression. Lower numbers of specific responses for cue words combined were associated with more severe CSA, CSA lasting over a longer duration and starting at an earlier age. Multiple regression analysis suggested that of these, duration of abuse was the most important predictor. These results support the association between overgeneral AM and CSA, but suggest that AM is more importantly a protective factor against depression. The results are discussed in the context of previous findings and longitudinal research is recommended to address the issues raised.