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The number one cause of depression and anxiety

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Traumatic events, depression and anxiety

A new study has found that traumatic life events are the number one cause of depression and anxiety, according to psychologists at the University of Liverpool who also found that the manner in which an individual perceives such events has a profound impact on the amount of stress they experience.

For the study, researchers examined the responses of more than 32,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 85 years after they had completed an online survey, which was designed to learn more about the causes and consequences of stress.

The researchers learned from the results of the survey that traumatic life events were the number one cause of anxiety and depression. The next largest cause was having a history of mental illness in the family, followed by financial problems and education issues.

Other factors contributing to stress were relationship problems and social status, but the results from the survey indicated that how a person perceives their stress was a more significant factor as it pertained to how much anxiety and depression an individual suffered.

Each participant was asked in the survey to answer a variety of questions ranging from life events and whether they had any family history of mental illness, to the status of their relationships and social life.

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The survey also asked them about their typical responses to stressful events, and whether or not they felt comfortable discussing their problems with others.

Professor Peter Kinderman, of the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, led the study. He explained that those who suffer from depression and anxiety have conditions that are complex and do not have any single cause.

To learn more about why people get depressed and anxious, Kinderman and his colleagues set out to analyze the results from those who took the online survey made available by the BBC for its “Stress Test”.

Accordingly, Kinderman concluded that while genetics and our circumstances in life play a large role in contributing to stress and mental health issues, the results of the survey revealed that traumatic life events are the single largest cause of depression and anxiety.

More importantly though, is how an individual thinks about the traumatic event and how they cope with the fall out from such trauma in terms of the amount of stress and anxiety they experience as a result.

Although we can’t change what happens in the life of a person or alter their family history if mental illness is a part of it, Kinderman says that we can help that person by trying “to change the way they think and to teach them positive coping strategies that can mitigate and reduce stress levels.”

SOURCE: Psychological Processes Mediate the Impact of Familial Risk, Social Circumstances and Life Events on Mental Health, Kinderman P, Schwannauer M, Pontin E, Tai S (2013) PLoS ONE 8(10): e76564. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076564



There are differences between anxiety and depression, and the article confuses as to which is the primary problem. Anxiety disorders are characterized by a sense of doubt and vulnerability about future events. and a variety of symptoms involving anxious thoughts, unexplained physical sensations, and avoidant or self protective behaviors. The usual culprit here is an allergic response. The brain thinks that you are being attacked and activates the fight or flight response in the limbic brain. In this there are a series of sympathetic & other reactions in the body to face the perceived danger in a concerted way. first of all to the Voluntary Nervous System. This system directs our skeletal muscular system to contract, (often causing back problems if the allergen is consumed often),small blood vessels to dilate, heartbeat to increase, throat muscles and nostrils to open wider, pupils to dilate and eyes to become more alert, sugars to be released from the liver to give us extra energy for the fight (or flight),bowels and bladder to empty making the body as light as possible to run if necessary. The brain also triggers the release of various hormones in the body like the adrenaline, noradrenalin, glucocorticoids etc. We are now prepared for the fight or flight, and anxious about the possible outcome. This state could last as long as 4 hours, unless the allergen is consumed more than once a day. You could compare this anxiety state to a boxer being in the ring, just before the fight. Depression, on the other hand, is caused by a hormone imbalance in the brain. A person whose problem is depression, rather than anxiety, generally doesn't show the same fear and uncertainty that people do with anxiety disorders. Depressed people are not so preoccupied with worrying about what might happen to them in the future. They think they already know what will happen, and they believe it will be bad, the same bad stuff that's happening to them now. The key symptoms of depression include: Depression may come on as a relatively sudden and severe problem, or it may consist of a longer term set of symptoms which are less severe.
Thank you for your comment. While I understand there are some differences between anxiety and depression, the two often go hand-in-hand because depressed people are often anxious, just as anxious people are often depressed. Of course, that's not always the case, but even when a depressed person does not appear anxious, they often have deeply rooted fears that get buried underneath the "mask" of depression. Same goes for people with anxiety disorders who don't appear depressed because, deep down, they also have fears often associated with a loss of hope that they'll ever feel "normal" again. As for anxiety disorders specifically, I disagree with you that an allergic response is the "usual culprit". As mental health professionals will confirm, a true "anxiety disorder" is a serious mental illness in which the person suffering from it experiences constant, overwhelming, and crippling worry and fear. Like depression, the exact cause of anxiety disorders remains unknown, but the latest research shows that both depression and anxiety disorders are mental illnesses that can be caused by severe or long-lasting stress, which eventually changes the balance of chemicals in the brain that control mood. In this regard, having a family history of mental illness and/or biochemical imbalances in the brain are risk factors that contribute to anxiety disorders and depression. Similarly, I do not agree that depression is "caused by a hormone imbalance in the brain", although that may be a contributing factor (just not the "cause"). True clinical depression is a far more complex disease than that, and it occurs for a variety of reasons. For example, some people experience depression during a serious medical illness, whereas others have depression with major life changes (e.g. a move or the death of a loved one). Still others have a family history of depression. Whatever the case, those who suffer from clinical depression feel overwhelmed with sadness and loneliness for no apparent reason. Bottom Line: Both depression and anxiety disorders are complex illnesses with many contributing factors. While the cause of both remain largely unknown, the latest scans and studies of brain chemistry has helped researchers broaden their understanding of the biochemical processes involved. As they gain a better understanding of the cause(s) of these illnesses, health professionals will be able to make more accurate and "tailored" diagnoses based on an individual's symptoms, therefore allowing physicians to prescribe more effective treatment plans.
In my opinion the number one cause of depression and anxiety is the lack of faith in God. Lack of faith in truth. When this faith is not there people worry and are full of fear because they don't know how to face the uncertainties of future. Have you ever wondered why are people afraid of dark rooms? Because they don't know what's there and they feel fearful and insecure. But when you turn on the light, the fear goes away. Therefore, the best way to avoid or treat depression and anxiety is to turn on the light in your souls and lives.