Study finds traumatic life events biggest cause of anxiety and depression

October 16, 2013

A study by psychologists at the University of Liverpool has found that traumatic life events are the biggest cause of anxiety and depression, but how a person thinks about these events determines the level of stress they experience.

Researchers from the University's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society analysed the responses of over 32,000 , aged 18 – 85 years, who completed the BBC's `Stress Test', an online survey to explore the causes and consequences of stress.

The study – the biggest of its kind in the UK- found that traumatic life events were the single biggest determinant of and followed by a family history of mental illness and income and education levels. Relationship status and social factors made smaller – but still significant –contributions to stress. However, the results revealed that a person's thinking style was as much a factor in the level of anxiety and depression a person experienced.

The `Stress Test', which was launched on BBC Radio 4's `All in The Mind' and available on the BBC website to complete, asked participants a range of questions about their family history of mental health problems, life events, income and education levels, and social circumstances. It also asked participants about how they responded to stressful situations, for example, did they talk to friends about their problems, did they turn to alcohol to reduce stress, did they blame themselves.

Professor Peter Kinderman, Head of the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society who lead the research, said: "Depression and anxiety are not simple conditions and there is no single cause. We wanted to find out more about what caused people to suffer from anxiety and depression and why some people suffered more than others.

"Whilst we know that a person's genetics and life circumstances contribute to , the results showed that are the main reason people suffer from anxiety and depression. However, the way a person thinks about, and deals with, stressful events is as much an indicator of the level of stress and anxiety they feel."

"Whilst we can't change a person's or their life experiences, it is possible to help a person to change the way they think and to teach them positive coping strategies that can mitigate and reduce levels."

Mental health problems affect one person in every four, making it the leading cause of disability. Its direct cost to England alone is approximately £41.8 billion per annum but the wider costs to in terms of the economy, benefits, lost productivity at work, is far greater.

Explore further: Poor mental health leads to unhealthy behaviors among low-income adults

Related Stories

Greek crisis has biological health effects

September 24, 2013

Young adults in Greece suffer more from stress and mental health problems and are less optimistic about the future than Swedes of the same age. The grave financial problems in Greece have brought on a social crisis that has ...

Debt linked to mental health problems

September 26, 2013

New research, led by the University of Southampton, has shown that people in debt are three times more likely to have a mental health problem than those not in debt.

Postpartum depression spans generations

October 8, 2013

A recently published study suggests that exposure to social stress not only impairs a mother's ability to care for her children but can also negatively impact her daughter's ability to provide maternal care to future offspring.

Recommended for you

First language wires brain for later language-learning

December 1, 2015

You may believe that you have forgotten the Chinese you spoke as a child, but your brain hasn't. Moreover, that "forgotten" first language may well influence what goes on in your brain when you speak English or French today.

Anxiety can kill your social status

December 1, 2015

Neuroscientists at EPFL identify a brain region that links anxious temperament to low social status. The researchers were able to tweak social hierarchy in animals by using vitamin B3.

Watching eyes prevent littering

December 1, 2015

People are less likely to drop litter if it has printed eyes on it, researchers at Newcastle University, UK, have found. An image of watching eyes reduced the odds of littering by around two thirds.

How can I tell if she's lying?

November 27, 2015

Sarcasm, white lies and teasing can be difficult to identify for those with certain disorders – new video inventory developed at McGill may help


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.