Does Life Experience Influence Predisposition to Depression?

Researchers at UCLA have discovered a link between early life traumas and future episodes of depression. The study revealed that although most of the population experiences depression as a result of a significant life event, such as divorce or the death of a family member, a large percent of the population, nearly 30 percent, suffer their first bout of depression as the result of rather minimal disturbances. Additionally, 60 percent of people who have had repeated episodes of depression also appear to have developed their first symptoms with little or no major life trauma. George Slavich, of UCLA, and his team believe these depressed people are more susceptible to symptoms because they have suffered previous challenging life events or adversities.

The researchers found that people who had lost a parent early in life, or those who had experienced several episodes of depression, were more likely to become depressed after minimal levels of stress than those without those pre-existing conditions present. “We have known for a long time that some people are more likely to experience mental and physical health problems than others,” Slavich said.

The team wanted to see if previous stress created a higher amount of sensitivity to future stress. After evaluating the life conditions of 74 women and 26 men, the researchers found that those who had suffered the loss of a parent in childhood experienced more depressive episodes than any other group. “Researchers at UCLA and elsewhere have previously demonstrated that early adversity and depression history are associated with heightened sensitivity to stress,” Slavich said. He goes on to explain what role thoughts play in this dynamic. “Our thoughts affect how we react emotionally and biologically to situations, and these reactions in turn greatly influence our health. Regardless of your prior experiences, then, it is always important to take a step back and make sure you are interpreting situations in an unbiased way, based on the information available.”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Mal


    July 8th, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Does make sense…it’s like having an injury, only mental rather than physical…So when something even small happens at the same spot(your mind) you tend to bleed(feel depressed)…So what would be the medication for such an ‘injury’?

  • Cal


    July 9th, 2011 at 5:09 AM

    I suppose that I can see how the sadder your life is been how this easily translates into becoming depressed more often in life. It is kind of a shame though that for so many their lives are mapped out so soon and they have little control over the future. It has already been predetermined for them.

  • Francesca Jones

    Francesca Jones

    July 9th, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    You can’t really link trauma and depression apparently with a 100% certainty. There is a link there but it’s completely different for each person and not all succumb to depression. Like the article says, 60% of people with depression had no trauma in their lives, more than half. Depression remains a mystery.

  • P.L. Gavins

    P.L. Gavins

    July 9th, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    You did say that it was different for everyone. Someone can get very depressed for days or weeks if an aging celebrity dies they have been a lifelong fan of, for example. We can’t pinpoint who will react in what way to a difficult or sad experience essentially because we are just not the same as each other. That’s what keeps life interesting, the unpredictability of it all.

  • LTR


    July 9th, 2011 at 4:44 PM

    I think that those with depression are suffering it because of stress that won’t go away like debts or others in their lives they don’t want anything to do with. It’s a shame we can’t legally punch a guy that’s annoying us in order to drop a less-subtle hint about our moods when they don’t get it and go away.

  • Savannah


    July 9th, 2011 at 7:46 PM

    @LTR-Aggression only makes stress worse, not better. It increases how stressed you feel. You would be worse off than you were before, except now you have a person who can press assault charges against you and have a right to defend themselves.

  • Pauline Downey

    Pauline Downey

    July 9th, 2011 at 9:44 PM

    Well, does it cause more depression or not? The first thing said is that 60% had no problems before depression, and later on it’s saying that people who lost a parent while they were young had more depressive symptoms. The article tells me nothing I don’t already know.

  • Dorian


    July 11th, 2011 at 4:45 AM

    These are all very stressful events that someone goes through. If I had been through a big event like that in my life at an early age I would probably be depressed too. But maybe the upside of knowing this is that we can be more in tune to what others could be experiencing and know the ones that we need to get more help and support to.

  • Nadia Wilkins

    Nadia Wilkins

    July 12th, 2011 at 11:07 PM

    @Pauline Downey: I believe too the study is weakly written and contradictory in nature. Study findings are often poorly written up like this. A report is cast out to the public without being checked for conclusiveness and clarity and you the reader are left to make up your own mind.

    Whoever made sure it contains viable information that answers the questions that the study set out to answer didn’t do their job.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on