In a study published by a group of Finnish investigators headed by Prof. Karlsson in the current issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics low level of optimism appear to predict initiation of psychotherapy for depression.

The patient's personality may be one of the many factors that contribute to the decision to initiate a certain treatment for depression. The aim of this study was to examine whether dispositional optimism and pessimism play a role in the initiation of psychotherapy as the treatment for new-onset depression in previously nondepressed public sector employees.

This prospective observational cohort study included 38,717 (mean age: 45 years; 76% female) public sector employees who responded to a survey in 1997, 2000-2001 and/or 2004 and had no history of depression at cohort entry. Dispositional optimism and pessimism were assessed via the revised Life Orientation Test and linked to individual records of indicators of depression onset in comprehensive national health registers, and of long-term psychotherapy for depression in particular. During a mean follow-up of 4.0 years, 1,616 (4%) incident cases of depression were observed. Of them, 79 started long-term, state-subsidized psychotherapy for depression. A 1-unit increase in mean optimism score was associated with a 38% lower likelihood of initiating psychotherapy as a treatment for depression and a 32% lower likelihood of depressive disorder in general during follow-up.

Pessimism score was not associated with initiation of psychotherapy for depression, but a 1-unit increase in pessimism score was associated with a 28% increase in the likelihood of depressive disorder. These findings were robust to adjustments for demographics, health risk behaviors and somatic diseases at baseline.

This study suggests that although both low optimism and high pessimism increase the risk for depression, only low optimism influences the initiation of psychotherapy as a treatment modality for depression. This could imply that depressed patients with low optimism should receive more attention in the beginning of the depressive episode than patients with high optimism.

Sources: Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, AlphaGalileo Foundation.