Background: Although substantial evidence suggests that stressful life events predispose to the onset of episodes of depression and anxiety, the essential features of these events that are depressogenic and anxiogenic remain uncertain.
Methods: High contextual threat stressful life events, assessed in 98 592 person-months from 7322 male and female adult twins ascertained from a population-based registry, were blindly rated on the dimensions of humiliation, entrapment, loss, and danger and their categories. Onsets of pure major depression (MD), pure generalized anxiety syndrome (GAS) (defined as generalized anxiety disorder with a 2-week minimum duration), and mixed MD-GAS episodes were examined using logistic regression.
Results: Onsets of pure MD and mixed MD-GAS were predicted by higher ratings of loss and humiliation. Onsets of pure GAS were predicted by higher ratings of loss and danger. High ratings of entrapment predicted only onsets of mixed episodes. The loss categories of death and respondent-initiated separation predicted pure MD but not pure GAS episodes. Events with a combination of humiliation (especially other-initiated separation) and loss were more depressogenic than pure loss events, including death. No sex differences were seen in the prediction of episodes of illness by event categories.
Conclusions: In addition to loss, humiliating events that directly devalue an individual in a core role were strongly linked to risk for depressive episodes. Event dimensions and categories that predispose to pure MD vs pure GAS episodes can be distinguished with moderate specificity. The event dimensions that preceded mixed MD-GAS episodes were largely the sum of those that preceded pure MD and pure GAS episodes.