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Self-esteem in depression and anxiety: low, unstable, and discrepant?

PhD ceremony:dr. L.A. (Lonneke) van Tuijl
When:May 18, 2017
Start:11:00
Supervisors:prof. dr. P.J. (Peter) de Jong, prof. dr. C.L.H. Bockting
Co-supervisor:dr. K.A. (Klaske) Glashouwer
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences

This study tested the role of low self-esteem in depression and anxiety disorders. Low self-esteem could be both a cause and a consequence of depression and anxiety. Moreover, residual low self-esteem in people who have recovered from depression and/or anxiety might set them at risk for recurrence. We differentiated between the purposeful evaluations (explicit self-esteem; ESE) and reflexive, gut-reaction evaluations (implicit self-esteem; ISE).

In healthy adolescents, relatively low ESE (but not low ISE) showed prognostic value for relatively intense symptoms of depression and social anxiety at two year follow-up.  Thus, low ESE appeared to be a risk factor for future symptoms of anxiety and depression. High level of depression and anxiety symptoms did not predict low self-esteem at follow up; thus there was no evidence for a low ESE/ISE scar following subclinical symptom levels. A clinical study showed that adults with a depression and/or anxiety disorder also displayed lowered ESE. Only those with a comorbid depression and anxiety also showed lowered ISE, which suggests that only a relatively chronic and severe course leads to automatic negative self-associations.  In line with the idea that a clinical disorder might result in a low self-esteem scar also, those who were in remittance showed lowered ESE. An important next step would be to test if this low ESE scar is also prognostic for the recurrence of depression and/or anxiety disorders. In addition, it would be important to test if increasing ESE may help prevent the development and/or recurrence of depression and anxiety.