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Predicting depression in women: the role of past and present vulnerability

  • A. BIFULCO (a1), G. W. BROWN (a1), P. MORAN (a1), C. BALL (a1) and C. CAMPBELL (a1)...
    • Published online: 01 January 1998

Background. A prospective study, covering just over a 1-year period, sought to confirm an earlier finding that around 40% of women who experience a severe life event in the presence of two ongoing psychosocial vulnerability factors, (negative close relationships and low self-esteem) will develop a major depressive episode. Distal risk factors were examined to see if they improved prediction.

Methods. A population sample of 105 mainly working-class mothers with vulnerability and without depression were interviewed three times over a 14-month period to date the occurrence of severe life events and onset of major depression. Degree of vulnerability was assessed at first contact together with distal risk in terms of childhood neglect/abuse and any earlier episodes of depression.

Results. Thirty-seven per cent of these vulnerable women became depressed in the study period. The majority experienced a severe life event, and of these, 48% had onsets. Contrary to expectation, risk was only a little less among those with just one of the two vulnerability factors. Two-thirds of women with an onset had been depressed in previous years. Although this was associated with increased risk, the effect was greatest for those who had experienced an episode before age 20. A relationship between childhood neglect/abuse and onset was entirely accounted for by such early depression.

Conclusion. An aetiological model of depression outlined in earlier research was confined with a new factor of teenage depression shown to increase risk of onset.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Dr A. Bifulco, Socio-Medical Research Centre, Royal Holloway, University of London, 11 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3RA.
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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