Background: Previous research on alexithymia and depression has led to a controversy over whether alexithymia should be viewed as a state-dependent phenomenon or as a stable personality trait. The aim of this 5-year follow-up study was to examine the temporal stability of alexithymia in outpatients suffering from major depression. Methods: The study population comprised 116 (49 male and 67 female) outpatients with major depression. Alexithymic features were assessed with the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and the degree of depression with the Beck Depression Inventory. The patients were retested after a period of 5 years. Results: Mean alexithymia and depression scores decreased significantly over the 5-year period. Alexithymia and depression were associated with each other, but the high test-retest correlations in the TAS-20 scores indicate relative stability of alexithymia. The three factors of alexithymia behaved differently. Difficulty in identifying feelings and difficulty in describing feelings were associated with alleviation of depressive symptoms, whereas externally oriented thinking was not. Conclusions: Alexithymia seems to be related with the severity of depression in outpatients with major depression, but it also shows relative stability over 5 years. Our findings support the view that the alexithymia construct represents a stable personality trait, but is also a state-dependent phenomenon.

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