Home Mental Health & Well-Being Maladaptive Daydreaming Linked to Increased Psychological Distress and Suicidality, Study Finds

Maladaptive Daydreaming Linked to Increased Psychological Distress and Suicidality, Study Finds

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Maladaptive daydreaming (MD), a psychological phenomenon marked by excessive and intrusive daydreaming, has been a subject of growing interest in the mental health community. A recent comprehensive study in the US has shed new light on this condition, its assessment, and its association with various mental health issues.

The study aimed to develop a shortened, practical measure for MD assessment, known as the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale-Short Form (MD-SF5), and to explore its mental health correlates in a large, non-selected US community sample. The survey involved 2,512 participants and used validated measures of mental health along with the new MD assessment tool.

The findings were published in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry.

The results of this study were multifaceted and significant. The MD-SF5 showed strong agreement with longer existing measures of MD, establishing its reliability as a diagnostic tool. More notably, the study revealed a high rate of psychopathology among participants with suspected MD. These individuals were more likely to experience psychological distress, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, and feelings of loneliness and isolation. This finding is in line with previous reports of the shame and disconnection from real life experienced by maladaptive daydreamers.

A noteworthy association was found between MD and psychotic experiences, such as hallucinations and delusional ideations. This could indicate a broader spectrum of imagination anomalies in MD. Additionally, the study observed a correlation between MD and heavy alcohol consumption, suggesting a tendency towards addictive behaviours in individuals with MD.

One of the most striking findings was the significant correlation between MD and suicidality. Individuals with suspected MD were found to be more than twice as likely to have recently attempted suicide, even after accounting for psychological distress. This suggests that MD could be a crucial factor in understanding and predicting suicidal tendencies.

Nirit Soffer-Dudek, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, provided some context about the study: “The study originally followed our wish to examine the prevalence of the phenomenon in the United States. While this study is not yet an epidemiological one, it provides a basis for future prevalence studies by providing a shortened assessment measure that is practical to administer on a large scale.

“The study also demonstrates the importance of acknowledging MD in clinical settings. In addition to the methodological advancement of creating a five-item measure that was found to be valid compared to the original measure, the study’s findings regarding MD and comorbid problems are important because they strengthen the idea that MD should be routinely assessed. Specifically, perhaps the most significant finding is that it shows that suspected MD was associated with twice as much risk of having attempted suicide in the past year, even after controlling for general psychological distress. This means that MD is an important marker of suicidality and should be assessed and acknowledged.”

She further emphasised: “Future studies on MD should address epidemiology, brain imaging, and developmental processes. We are currently studying MD in children and validating a children’s measure.”

The study’s findings highlight the need for increased awareness and consideration of MD in clinical settings. The development of the MD-SF5 as a reliable, brief diagnostic tool is particularly significant, providing clinicians and researchers with a practical means to identify MD. The study underscores the importance of considering MD in the broader context of mental health assessment and treatment, particularly given its associations with psychological distress, psychotic experiences, addiction, and suicidality.

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