Anaclitic depression is a condition that relates to attachment and interpersonal dependency. Signs include social withdrawal, appetite changes, and sleep issues.

Anaclitic depression tends to occur in infants who experience neglect or separation from their birthing parent or primary caregiver. However, it can also occur in adults.

Individuals with this condition may place more importance on relationships instead of themselves. They may depend on another person to provide support and fulfill their needs.

People with anaclitic depression often have a deep fear of rejection, separation, or abandonment, which can affect their relationships. Individuals may have trust issues, experience relationship anxiety, or develop an anxious attachment style.

It is important to note that anaclitic depression is not an official diagnosis. It is more of a theory from a psychodynamic standpoint, to help formulate the development of a person’s depressed personality. This means that people will not get an official diagnosis of anaclitic depression, but a therapist may explore whether the person’s depression is anaclitic. This would then guide the treatment approach.

Read on to learn more about anaclitic depression, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

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Anaclitic depression develops if an individual is separated from the person they rely on for an extended period. They may feel weak and helpless, especially if they experience interpersonal discord or think they may lose the relationship.

Anaclitic depression most often affects babies separated from their birthing parent or primary caregiver for several months. This can cause several physical, cognitive, and emotional changes. These changes can affect their overall health as well as their development, personality, and relationships.

In a 1945 article, psychoanalyst René Spitz discussed anaclitic depression in babies living in institutions.

He noted that hospitalism negatively affected many babies, causing poor health, social withdrawal, and developmental concerns. Spitz suggested that this was due to a lack of care, stimulation, and love from their birthing parent or caregiver.

Most of the time, anaclitic depression is due to the separation between an infant and its birthing parent or primary caregiver. It can also occur when the caregiver is neglectful or unreliable. They may not provide the love, support, and attention necessary for the infant to feel secure.

Anaclitic depression can also occur in people who have an anaclitic personality, which involves valuing relationships more than independence. People who have an anxious attachment style may also be more likely to develop this type of depression.

Adults or babies with anaclitic depression may not participate in daily life or interact with others.

Common symptoms of anaclitic depression include:

  • social withdrawal
  • sleep concerns
  • appetite changes
  • weight loss
  • sadness
  • loneliness
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • apathy
  • apprehension
  • lethargy
  • distress
  • crying

Usually, anaclitic depression is transient, and symptoms ease when the baby reconnects with their birthing parent or caregiver.

If this is not possible, the professionals providing care should ensure they meet the physical and emotional needs of the infants. Providing adequate love, attention, and nurturing may help the infants feel more secure.

Infants who experience maternal or caregiver separation are at greater risk of developing anaclitic depression.

2019 research suggests that individuals who do not form a secure attachment with their primary caregiver may be more likely to develop health concerns. Their attachment style may have a lifelong influence on their relationships and social interactions.

Adults with anaclitic depression often have an anxious or preoccupied attachment style and are likely to have interpersonal difficulties. They may place more importance on relationships instead of focusing on their autonomy and personal needs.

Individuals may be overly dependent on another person and display a deep wish to be loved, protected, and nurtured. They may rely on relationships to feel stable and define their sense of self.

Individuals with an anaclitic personality style may feel a strong need to form deep bonds with others. They may also crave the approval and acceptance of others. For some, the thought or threat of losing a relationship or experiencing conflict within it can exacerbate symptoms of depression.

The results of a 2021 review suggest that people who have an anaclitic or sociotropic personality often display reactivity, depression, and helplessness. They may have changeable moods and experience separation anxiety.

Adults with anaclitic depression may display:

  • sadness
  • anger
  • low self-worth
  • fears of abandonment or rejection
  • trust concerns
  • reclusiveness
  • perfectionism
  • indecisiveness

An individual with an anaclitic personality may benefit from psychoanalysis, especially if they experience depression or negative emotions.

According to 2020 research, psychoanalysis helps people with anaclitic personalities make positive life changes and learn to develop inner awareness. They learned to become more independent, stable, and self-aware while reducing their dependency and fixation on others. The individuals also improved confidence in relationships and the workplace.

When a person loses or is separated from a person with whom they have a strong attachment, they may develop anaclitic depression. This is linked to sadness, social withdrawal, and poor health.

Anaclitic depression can occur in an infant if they are separated from their birthing parent or caregiver for an extended period. Usually, symptoms disappear when they reunite.

Adults with anaclitic depression may have an anxious attachment style and place a high value on relationships, acceptance, and approval. Therapy can help them learn how to develop independence, form healthy relationship patterns, and make positive lifestyle changes.