BACKGROUND: Numerous studies indicate that stressful life events are key precipitants of psychological disturbances. Severe stress often precedes the onset or exacerbation of illness in vulnerable individuals and may be of primary importance in the genesis of some mental disorders. Several authors have suggested that major life events play a role in the development of panic-related symptoms. The aim of this study was to examine the presence of stressful life events, in particular events focused in the interpersonal psychotherapy problem areas (grief, role disputes, role transitions, interpersonal deficits), in patients suffering from panic disorder. METHODS: We interviewed 55 patients suffering from panic disorder, with or without agoraphobia, in accordance with the diagnostic criteria specified in MINI PLUS. The panic attack profile was evaluated with the Panic Attack and Anticipatory Anxiety Scale. We assessed the ability to adapt to and derive satisfaction from the social environment with the Social Adjustment Scale Self Report and interpersonal problems with Interpersonal Questionnaire. RESULTS: Using the Interpersonal Questionnaire we found that all subjects had had relevant interpersonal problems in the year preceding the onset of PD: 92.7% had experienced a role transition, 85.5% interpersonal deficits, 74.5% a role dispute and 38.2% had suffered the loss of a relative or significant other. These results were confirmed by Paykel's scale, on which the whole sample reported a high frequency of life events in the 6 months before onset of illness. These preliminary data suggest a rationale for the therapeutic strategies of interpersonal psychotherapy in individuals with panic disorder.
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