February 1972

Depressive Disease: Life Events and Onset of Illness

Author Affiliations

St. Louis
From the Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. Dr. Winokur is presently at the University of Iowa College of Medicine; Dr. Dorzab is now in private practice; and Dr. Baker is with the National Institute of Mental Health.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1972;26(2):133-136. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1972.01750200037008

This study examines the relationship between various possible precipitating events and the onset of unipolar depressive illness in 100 patients. The precipitating factors studied were: (1) deprivation prior to age 16 as a result of loss of parents by death, separation or divorce; (2) personal losses through death in the year before admission; (3) threatened personal losses; and (4) physical illness in the preceding six months. Patients whose depressive illness started before age 40 had a significantly higher incidence of real or threatened personal losses than did later-onset depressives (after 40). Twelve patients claimed a personal loss preceding the onset of depressive symptoms. Using 51 well relatives of the patients, matched for age and sex as controls, two claimed a similar type of personal loss. The difference between the two incidences, patient 12% and control of 3.9%, is not statistically significant.