Publication Details

Thomas, S. & Larkin, T. (2018). Plasma cortisol and oxytocin levels predict help-seeking intentions for depressive symptoms. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 87 159-165.


Background: Depressed individuals often refuse or withdraw from help, a phenomenon termed help-negation, which is a risk factor for poor outcomes. Most previous research has investigated psychosocial factors including stigma as causes of low help-seeking intentions for depression, however these do not adequately explain the problem. We hypothesised that because help-negation worsens with symptom severity, it might be linked to important biological changes associated with depression itself. We investigated the relative contributions of cortisol, a stress hormone linked to depression, and oxytocin, a hormone which mediates social behaviours, alongside psychosocial factors, to help-seeking intentions among depressed and non-depressed individuals. Methods: Morning plasma cortisol and oxytocin levels, psychopathology, suicidal ideation, help-seeking intentions from informal sources including family and friends, and formal sources including health professionals, and perceived social support were quantified in 63 adults meeting DSM-5 criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD) who were not receiving any treatment, and 60 healthy controls. Between-group analyses of variance, correlations, and hierarchical multiple regressions were employed. Results: Help-seeking intentions were lower in depressed than healthy participants, negatively correlated to cortisol and positively correlated to oxytocin. Cortisol negatively, and oxytocin positively, predicted helpseeking intentions from informal but not formal sources, after controlling for psychopathology and psychosocial factors. Conclusions: Neuroendocrine changes associated with depression may contribute to low help-seeking from friends and family, which may have implications for interpersonal support and outcomes. Research and clinical approaches which incorporate biological as well as psychosocial factors may allow for more targeted and effective early interventions to address lack of help-seeking and depression progression.



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