The relationship between primary dysthymia (chronic, low grade depression) and indices of major and minor life stresses, uplifts and coping styles was examined. Additionally, circulating lymphocyte subsets were assessed in dysthymic patients to determine their relationship to stress/coping factors or plasma levels of cortisol, ACTH or norepinephrine. Primary dysthymia was found to be associated with increased minor stressors (daily hassles), reduced uplifts, as well as particular reliance on emotion-focused rather than problem-oriented coping strategies. Interestingly, among dysthymics, the early onset group exhibited a greater degree of hassles and greater emotion-focused coping compared to the late onset subgroup. Although hassles and coping styles were correlated with depressed mood, only coping styles predicted severity of depressed affect. It seems that although dysthymia is characterized by increased hassles and reduced uplifts, these variables do not distinguish between the severity of the depressive affect, whereas the coping styles employed in the face of the increased hassles and reduced uplifts are more closely aligned with depression severity. Dysthymia was associated with elevated levels of circulating natural killer (NK) cells. Since levels of plasma cortisol, ACTH or norepinephrine were not increased in the dysthymic subjects, it is likely that the elevated NK cell number was unrelated to these neuroendocrine measures. In control subjects circulating NK cells were inversely related to the severity of hassles recently encountered, while in dysthymic patients stress and coping factors were unrelated to NK cell numbers. Thus, it appears that the altered NK cells in dysthymic patients were not related to the increased stress perception and altered coping which characterize these patients.
- Natural killer cell