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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


The Role Of Early Loss And Stress In Depression


September 23, 2014

Depression
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The Role Of Early Loss And Stress In Depression
The Role Of Early Loss And Stress In Depression
htmDepressionCauseStress
There are certain situations that can increase a person's risk or vulnerability to depression.
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2011-09-08
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2014-09-08

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

The Role of Early Loss and Stress in Depression

Loss and stress are normal parts of life, even in childhood. Childhood adversity does not inevitably lead to psychiatric disorders, including depression. In fact, in most people, stress does not cause a psychiatric disorder. Children and adults respond to trauma and stress in a wide variety of ways. This is 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 with 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.

Chronic Stress

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.

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. Another child may grow 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.

 

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