The Role of Early Loss and Stress in Depression
Trauma and stress are normal parts of life, even of childhood. Specific types of childhood adversity are not clearly linked to psychiatric disorders (including depression). And how children and adults respond to trauma and stress varies widely. In most people, trauma and stress do not cause a psychiatric disorder. That is as a tribute to the human capacity for coping. Nonetheless, certain stresses increase a person's vulnerability to depression.
Death of a Parent
The death of a parent early in a child's life has an enormous impact on the child, of course, although the risk of long-term problems can be reduced if the child has adequate support. Even with support, the weight of this loss remains significant, increasing the child's risk of depression throughout life.
Sexual or Physical Abuse
Sexual or physical abuse is associated with a high risk of depression. In addition to the effect on self-esteem, such experiences may alter biological responses to stress in ways that increase the victim’s vulnerability to depression.
People who have had many traumatic experiences are at higher risk for developing a psychiatric illness. Depression is particularly common in this high-risk group.
The more episodes of depression a person has, the more common it is for episodes to start out of the blue, without being triggered by stress. This risk of future episodes may be reduced by treating depression early.
Getting the Help You Need to Make Peace with the Past
The experiences of your life strongly influence how you view yourself. The ability to handle adult responsibilities depends, in part, on how you reacted to past experiences. There is no one normal way to react. One child who loses a parent at an early age may grow up to avoid intimate relationships while another child grows to embrace life's challenges. Some children who suffered abuse may be prone to feeling victimized in their adult relationships while others develop good instincts for choosing the right friends and partners in life.
Fortunately, most people make adjustments that allow them to work and play with others and sustain loving relationships. Remember that even in the most favorable circumstances, it is impossible to adjust perfectly, and everyone may need help at one time or another. Throughout life, it is normal to rely on family members, friends, teachers, mentors and, in some cases, mental-health professionals.