OBJECTIVE: Studies of the learned helplessness paradigm in laboratory
animals show increased central noradrenergic activity following exposure to
uncontrollable stressors. In clinical studies, depressed patients as a
group report higher perceptions of helplessness and powerlessness. The
authors examined the relationship between perceptions of powerlessness and
noradrenergic activity in depressed patients. METHOD: Twenty drug-free
patients (12 women and 8 men) meeting DSM-III criteria for major depressive
disorder were given the Kobasa Hardiness Questionnaire, which contains
subscales measuring feelings of powerlessness, security, and alientation.
Concurrently, 24- hour urine samples were collected for measurement of
urinary MHPG. RESULTS: Significant correlations were found between MHPG
levels and total hardiness scores as well as between MHPG levels and total
powerlessness scores but not between MHPG levels and total security or
total alientation scores. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that depressed
patients with high urinary output of MHPG are more likely to show the
cognitive features of learned helplessness.