The Relationship Between Self-Esteem and Depression

Depression and self-esteem are intertwined and contribute to negative affect. Research has shown how self-esteem influences depression, and some studies have suggested that depression works negatively to decrease self-esteem. Understanding how each of these conditions affects the other is essential in order to effectively treat depression and other conditions that co-occur such as anxiety. In an attempt to determine the nature of the relationship between depressive symptoms and self-esteem, Julia Friederike Sowislo of the Department of Psychology at the University of Basel in Switzerland conducted a review of existing research on these conditions.

Sowislo analyzed 18 studies on anxiety and self-esteem and an additional 77 studies on depression and self-esteem. She looked at the vulnerability factors of each symptom and assessed the impact they had on each other. The data she reviewed were collected from individuals ranging in age from early childhood to late adulthood. The studies Sowislo chose were conducted using a variety of measurements and time periods, allowing for a broad review of data.

The final analyses revealed a strong relationship between self-esteem and depression but a weak one for depression and self-esteem. Specifically, Sowislo found that decreases in self-esteem were predictive of increases in depression. But she found only minimal evidence for depression decreasing self-esteem. However, when she looked at self-esteem and anxiety, Sowislo found that the relationship was more reciprocal, with both self-esteem and anxiety negatively affecting each other in similar ways. These findings provide additional and clear evidence of the importance of self-esteem in depression. “The robustness of the effect also strengthens the potential importance of self-esteem interventions,” said Sowislo. She believes that treatments aimed at reducing depression by way of improving self-esteem could provide not only short-term gains for clients but also long-term protection from depression for those most at risk. Sowislo added that regardless of age or gender, individuals should be taught how to improve their sense of self-worth in order to effectively manage and overcome their depression.

Sowislo, J. F., Orth, U. (2012). Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028931

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  • Jennifer

    July 6th, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    My self esteem has always been pretty low. I have never been able to have that feel good thing about myself, and as I have gotten older, that has only served to feed my depression and make me feel even worse. I am not sure that this is a cycle that you can point to and say yes, point a causes point b or vice versa. I think that for most of us with these kinds of issues, one just feeds the other to the point that you lose sight of which came first and which is the bigger problem. It honestly feels for me all the same.

  • Ashley

    February 15th, 2017 at 1:44 PM

    I can definitely relate!

  • Samuel A

    July 6th, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    It’s all so convoluted and twisted, who could know what causes what?

  • DownOnMyLuck

    July 6th, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    I, like Jennifer, have always been plagued by self esteem issues and have as a result lived a pretty sad life. I have never felt worthy of praise or love and as a consequence have isolated my self so much that I don’t even think that I have any friends left in my life.

    I know that I am better than this and deserve better than this, but I have been isolating myself from others for so long that it is hard to even know where to start to get my life back again.

    You try all of these self affirmations ala Stuart Smiley, and even though I repreat those things there is always this nagging feeling that none of it is true.

  • RON

    July 6th, 2012 at 10:12 PM

    Well I can see how this plays out-Depression as far as I have experienced makes you feel incapable of doing things at times and brings you down and low. So someone with a high self esteem is bound to find the sailing through depression at least comparatively easy with respect to those with low self esteem.

    Double benefit of having a high self esteem I guess.

  • Larry C

    July 7th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    The results of the study were exactly what I thought that they would be.

    I can easily see how those with lower self esteem could fall into the trap of depression. They already feel bad about themselves, so if just a few things happened in their lives that they perceived as negative, then it would be easy for the to slip just a little further away and into a depressed state.

    But someone who has always generally ok with themselves but happens to experience depression, more than likely after they receive treatment they will go back to being their old self.

  • Sandra

    July 8th, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    easy solution: step in and speak up when you see a child struggling with self esteem. do everything that you can to increase their feelings of worthiness so that hopefully they will not become at increased risk of developing depression

  • Michael Nelson

    July 26th, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    This abstract on the research linking self-esteem to depression is something I am aware off through my experience in clinical practice; however I was not aware of this recent research and I am interested in obtaining a copy of the paper. Is it available free or is their a cost involved and where would I obtain it from.

  • Matthew

    July 19th, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    i have been suffering from self-esteem issues latly and it seems to make my depression worse, i dont feel good enough and im always looking to make myself better. but when i look in the mirror in the morning its so discouraging i mean its not that im bad looking i just dont feel good enough for anyone

  • Meissa

    August 20th, 2013 at 7:44 PM

    This article speaks a lot of truth. I am a depressed teenager and I feel like no one likes me and I never do anything right. Socializing is extremely hard because I’ve got almost no self esteem. Life hurts right now and I can only pray that some day it will get better.

  • Christine

    August 27th, 2013 at 8:39 AM

    Great article! I love reading your articles because it speaks the truth, as what Meissa said. Keep up the good work!

  • Brooke

    November 1st, 2015 at 10:26 PM

    I am 16 I live with my bf and I can’t stand but constantly feel like shit. Idk why but I always do. Why do I feel like this?? I hate the feeling! And then hating it makes me want to cry. My bf is very nice and he tries to make me feel good about myself. I also have PTSD from my past as a child I was abused could this be a factor in my self esteem and depression issues??

  • Ashley

    February 15th, 2017 at 1:42 PM

    Through experience this is definitely me! I constantly feel alone and have had many bad thoughts about myself to to point where suicide thoughts are involved. For the past 16 years of my life I’ve been treated unlike everyone else and all I’ve wanted to do was fit in. I hate it! The only solution for me was cutting, it helped me realize what I was in life.. Fucking worthless!?

  • john

    January 10th, 2018 at 11:46 AM

    i feel this is all on related.

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