Chronic Depression, Childhood Trauma and Life Events

cropped childhood trauma fact sheet1 - Chronic Depression, Childhood Trauma and Life Events

A recent research study, carried out by Wiersma et al, focused on possible (chronic depression is long-lasting depression which has been continuous for two years or more – 20% of those with major depression suffer from this chronic form of it.

When major depression is also chronic, it is particularly serious; this is because those individuals who are chronically depressed are more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to commit suicide than those who suffer from episodic depression) found that the GREATEST RISK FACTOR LINKED TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF LATER ADULT CHRONIC DEPRESSION WAS CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.

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The study ran over a time period of 8 years and involved 1230 participants (two thirds of whom were female). Amongst other factors, the study sought to determine the link between adult chronic depression and:

a) Childhood Trauma eg. physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse

b) Childhood Life Experiences eg. parental loss, parental divorce, parental separation

RESULTS:

–   those who had experienced childhood trauma (physical/emotional/sexual abuse) were significantly more likely to suffer from chronic depression compared to those who had not experienced childhood trauma

however :

– Childhood Life Experiences which, according to self-reports from the participants, had NOT involved significant trauma, did NOT significantly increase the likelihood of the later development of adult chronic depression.

OTHER RESULTS FROM THE STUDY :

–  the more frequent the experiences of childhood trauma were, the greater was the risk that the individual would go on to develop adult chronic depression

– those who had suffered most severely from childhood trauma were 3 times more likely to go on to develop adult chronic depression compared to those who had not suffered significant trauma.  Furthermore, they were found to be at significant increased risk of developing co-morbid psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety. Finally, too, it was found that, on average, the age of onset of their depressive condition was earlier.

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CONCLUSIONS :

– these findings are consistent with previous research findings

– it can be inferred from the results that IT IS NOT THE LIFE|EVENTS, PER SE, WHICH INCREASE THE CHANCES OF THE LATER DEVELOPMENT OF ADULT CHRONIC DEPRESSION; RATHER, IT IS THE QUALITY OF THE CHILD’S HOME ENVIRONMENT WHICH IS CRUCIAL.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE TREATMENT OF DEPRESSION :

We are able to infer from the above findings that it is quite possible that :

a) depression associated with childhood trauma

and

b) depression NOT associated with childhood trauma

may react differently to particular types of treatment.

For example, studies extending on the one described above suggest that depression associated with childhood trauma is more likely to respond well to psychotherapy rather than psycho-pharmacology (treatment with drugs). Therefore, clinicians need to be aware of whether their depressed patients experienced childhood trauma, in order that a more informed decision about appropriate treatment may be taken.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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