PhD in Nursing Science Program

Benjamin A. Smallheer

Learned Helplessness and Depressive Symptoms in Patients Following Acute Myocardial Infarction


Dissertation under the direction of Professor Michael W. Vollman


The purpose of this dissertation research study was to investigate the associations among learned helplessness, depressive symptoms, and targeted demographic, clinical, and psychosocial factors in individuals who experienced a recent acute myocardial infarction (AMI).


Using a descriptive cross-sectional design, a convenience sample (N=75) was recruited from cardiology clinics in the middle Tennessee region. Standardized instruments and measures were used to evaluate all study variables.


A statistically significant, direct relationship was found between learned helplessness and depressive symptoms, suggesting that individuals who had higher selfreported levels of learned helplessness also reported more depressive symptoms. No statistically significant associations were observed among the number of AMI events, the number of co-morbidities, learned helplessness, and depressive symptoms. Statistically significant, inverse associations were identified among social support, self-efficacy, learned helplessness, and depressive symptoms. These findings suggest that individuals who reported higher levels of social support and self-efficacy experienced less learned helplessness and less depressive symptoms.

Univariate associations also suggested younger individuals and those with a lower estimated yearly household income reported more depressive symptoms following an AMI. Additionally, individuals who identified themselves as either unemployed or disabled exhibited more depressive symptoms.

Hierarchical regression analysis was performed to evaluate the multivariate associations among all study variables. After controlling for the influence of other study variables, learned helplessness continued to significantly contribute to the occurrence of depressive symptoms in individuals following AMI.

These results indicate learned helplessness is uniquely associated with depressive symptoms in individuals following an AMI. Additional research in needed to determine the potential longitudinal impact of learned helplessness on depressive symptoms, morbidity, and mortality in this population.