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Sfaerlea, Anca; Dehning, Sandra; Keller, Lena Katharina and Schulte-Koerne, Gerd (2019): Alexithymia predicts maladaptive but not adaptive emotion regulation strategies in adolescent girls with anorexia nervosa or depression. In: Journal of Eating Disorders, Vol. 7, No. 1, 41

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Background Among adolescent girls, anorexia nervosa (AN) and major depression (MD) are common and often comorbid mental health problems. Both disorders are characterised by difficulties in recognising and verbalising (alexithymia) as well as regulating one's emotions, but research in adolescent patients is scarce and little is known about the relation between alexithymia and difficulties in emotion regulation. The aims of this study were to investigate alexithymia and emotion regulation skills in adolescents with AN, adolescents with MD, and healthy adolescents, and to determine whether alexithymia functions as a predictor for emotion regulation skills. Methods Emotion regulation strategies, alexithymia, and depressive symptoms were assessed by questionnaire measures in 12-18 year old girls with AN (n = 26), girls with MD (n = 25), and healthy girls (n = 35). Groups were compared with respect to the these variables and multiple regression analyses were calculated separately for adaptive and maladaptive emotion regulation strategies in order to examine if alexithymia predicted emotion regulation over and above age and depressive symptoms. Results Girls with AN or MD both reported using adaptive emotion regulation strategies less frequently and maladaptive emotion regulation skills more frequently as well as higher levels of alexithymia compared to healthy girls. Alexithymia positively predicted maladaptive emotion regulation strategies, while depressive symptoms negatively predicted adaptive emotion regulation strategies. Conclusions The results suggest that different mechanisms may underlie the lack of adaptive and the surplus of maladaptive emotion regulation strategies in adolescent psychiatric patients.

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