The relationship between somatic complaints and depression in a non-clinical adolescent population

Barbara Jortner, Pace University


This study investigated the relationship between somatic complaints and depression in a non-clinical adolescent population. Depressive symptoms and experiences were explored. Subjects were 434 ninth through twelfth graders from a Westchester School District. These students were part of a larger study of adolescent depression conducted in Spring, 1989. Somatic complaints were measured using the Achenback Youth Self Report (YSR) Somatic Complaint Scale. To provide greater dimensionality, groupings of selected somatic items from the broader study packet were also used. Depressive symptoms and behaviors were measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale for Children (CES-DC) and the Achenbach YSR Depressed Scale. Depressive experiences were measured using two scales of the Depressive Experiences Questionnaire (DEQ); the Dependency Scale, which has been theoretically linked to anaclitic depression and the Self-criticism Scale, which has been theoretically linked to introjective depression. There were two central theoretical hypotheses. The first was that subjects who have more somatic complaints are more depressed. The second was that anaclitic depression is characterized by more somatic complaints than introjective depression. Blatt (1974) has described anaclitic depression as primarily oral in nature and as characterized by feelings of dependence, helplessness, weakness and depletion. Introjective depression was described as at a higher developmental level and as characterized by self-criticism and feelings of worthlessness, guilt and a sense of having failed to live up to standards. Anaclitic depression has been theoretically linked to somatic complaints and the dependency scale has been positively correlated with somatic phenomena. Blatt does not view introjective depression as related to somatic complaints and the self-criticism scale has not been shown to be correlated with this variable. Results of this study showed that all measures of depression, including the self-criticism scale of the DEQ, were significantly correlated with somatic complaints. When subjects were classified into nondepressed, moderately depressed and severely depressed groups using CES-DC cutoff scores, it was found that those subjects in the more depressed categories had significantly higher scores on somatic complaint items. When subjects were classified into nondepressed, anaclitic, introjective and mixed depression groups by applying a median split to the dependency and self-criticism DEQ scales, significant differences in somatic complaint scores were found. Post hoc analyses indicated that subjects in the anaclitic group had significantly higher somatic complaint scores than those in the introjective group. A significant main effect for gender was obtained with higher scores for females on somatic complaint, depression and DEQ dependency measures. No gender x depressive category interactions were found, indicating that the effect of depressive category on amount of somatic complaints was similar for males and females. Theoretical and practical implications for the treatment, diagnosis and referral of depressed adolescents presenting with somatic complaints are discussed.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Psychology|Experiments

Recommended Citation

Jortner, Barbara, "The relationship between somatic complaints and depression in a non-clinical adolescent population" (1991). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9110941.



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