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Does Depression Generate Negative Life Events?


The Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease: March 1997 - Volume 185 - Issue 3 - p 145-150

This prospective study investigated whether major depressive disorder can cause negative life events. One hundred and thirteen normal college men have been followed biennially from age 26 until age 62. Fourteen major negative life events were assessed retrospectively by a self-report checklist. A blind rater read each man's complete records over the 35 years and used the same checklist prospectively. The negative life events were divided into dependent and independent groups according to whether the men's own behavior could have played a role in causing the events. In comparison with the normal control group, depressed individuals had a higher density of dependent negative life events after their first episode of depression. This difference did not exist for the occurrence of independent negative life events. Independent negative life events tended to be related to help seeking behaviors rather than to depression. This study confirmed our hypothesis that affective spectrum disorder can generate self-induced negative life events, which may contribute to the chronicity of the disorder.

1Division of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Send reprint requests to George E. Vaillant, M.D., Division of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 75 Francis Street Boston, MA 02115.

The authors are indebted to John Orav Ph.D. for helpful advice. This work was supported by research grants MH 00364 and MH 42248 from the National Institute of Mental Health.

© Williams & Wilkins 1997. All Rights Reserved.