Autobiographical memory specificity, depression, and trauma in bipolar disorder

M William, Ciaran Shannon, Christopher G. McCusker, Ciaran Meenagh, Derek Robinson, Angela Wilson, Ciaran Mulholland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives. In a bipolar disorder (BD) sample, the present study investigated: (i) the prevalence of trauma; (ii) the specificity of autobiographical memory (AM); (iii) the influence of childhood trauma on AM specificity, current inter-episode depressive mood, and BD severity; (iv) if AM specificity moderates the influence of childhood trauma on current inter-episode depressive mood and BD severity.

Methods. Fifty-two participants were recruited from a geographically well-defined mental health service in Northern Ireland. The AM test, self-report measures of lifetime experience of trauma, childhood trauma, and depression were administered. Severity of BD was estimated utilizing a systematic tool for reviewing all available clinical data of participants.

Results. A high prevalence of trauma was found. A total of 94.2% (49/52) of participants reported experiencing a traumatic event in either childhood or adulthood. AM specificity was significantly lower than previous reports of such in major depression. However, whilst childhood trauma predicted current inter-episode depressive mood, childhood trauma was not predictive of BD severity or AM specificity. Moreover, the association between childhood trauma and depressed mood was not moderated by AM specificity.

Conclusions. The findings of this study suggest a relationship between early psychosocial adversity and current inter-episode depressive mood in BD. In addition, levels of overgeneral AM are similar to that reported for depression, but are unrelated to childhood trauma, current inter-episode depressive mood, or BD severity. Clinical implications include the importance of routine assessment of trauma in BD and the need for adjunctive evidenced-based psychological therapies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-233
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Clinical Psychology
Issue numberPt 2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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