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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