This is the first of three articles dealing with some basic aspects of the relationship between life events and depression, and is also one part of a larger study in which the possible impact of stressful events has been studied from a multifactorial point of view. Two-hundred and four patients suffering from a depressive disorder, consecutively admitted to the Department of Psychiatry of the Umeå University have participated in a study of life events carried out by means of a specially constructed life events inventory that was used as a guideline for a semistructured interview. The results of this part of the study show that there are no pronounced differences in the occurrence, or appraisal of life events between male and female patients. The more vulnerable, older patients have experienced significantly fewer life events, even of the fateful type, prior to the onset of depression. No difference was found between patients who were married or lived together with a partner and patients who were unmarried, separated, divorced or widowed except in the categories of events (e.g. 'conflict' events) which might have been the very reason for a separation or a divorce. The results are discussed in relation to other findings in the literature.