Chronic Depression More Likely in Abuse Victims

Credit photo: SINC

Credit photo: SINC

Stress linked to abuse makes the brain more vulnerable to depression. A new study [citation below] indicates the highest risk variables of chronic depression in the population are linked to having suffered previous episodes of depression or delayed treatment when related to other physical or mental health problems or having suffered sexual abuse during childhood.

Chronic major depressive disorder, with episodes that last more than 24 months, affects almost half of patients seeking treatment for depression and carries with it significant problems in terms of disability, suffering and the cost of healthcare.

A piece of research carried out by Mauro García-Toro, a scientist from the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), during a stay at Columbia University in New York, along with researchers from both institutions, reveals the main risk factors for this disease.

Published in the ‘Journal of Affective Disorders’, the study analyzes several variables related to the physical and mental health of over 35,000 U.S. who are representative of the country’s population.

After three years, the researchers got back in contact with the same people to observe how these variables had evolved and they focused on identifying the characteristics that increased the risk of severe chronic depression persisting once it has started.

As García-Toro explains, “Identifying risk factors for the persistence and remission of severe depression is important in order to progress in our understanding of the causes and development of the most effective preventative treatments and therapies.”

The experts concluded that the highest risk variables for this illness were early onset of depression or delayed treatment, whether it is linked to other physical or mental health problems or sexual abuse in childhood.

“The longer depression persists, the more likely the subjects interviewed are to recount having undergone sexual abuse, which no doubt means that they have been exposed to severe stress on many occasions in early life,” notes García-Toro.

In fact, the researcher affirms that, “In addition to the usual psychological trauma, it has been demonstrated that this stress modifies the neurochemistry and structure of the brain, making it more vulnerable to depression.”

Another consequence of abuse

The results also reveal that 10% of all the people interviewed said that they had undergone sexual abuse as children, but of those who suffered severe depression for more than five years, this proportion approached 40%.

“These data are for men and women,” the researcher points out. Thus, “as we know that sexual abuse is much more common in girls, it is highly likely that in the adult female population more than half of those with severe depression for more than five years suffered sexual abuse as children.”

According to the authors, it is important to bring this situation to the attention of others early on in order to discover such examples – as not all patients recount these events spontaneously – thereby increasing the possibility that professionals may intervene to improve treatment for those suffering from chronic depression.

Source: Plataforma SINC

Reference:

Garcia-Toro M, Rubio JM, Gili M, Roca M, Jin CJ, Liu SM, Bastianoni C, & Blanco C (2013). Persistence of chronic major depression: a national prospective study. Journal of affective disorders, 151 (1), 306-12 PMID: 23866303.

  • mmartin

    When people go through terrible events in ones life, post-traumatic stress disorder may happen. It’s when a person will relive the bad experence that happened in full detail. The victim will go though a high amount of stress as they did when the real experince was happening. This will cause depression in later life. Doctor see this in soldiers who come back from war, they relive what happened over seas and then become depressed. In a study it showed in the last year 325 comfired suicides. The stress of being in the event they are in can cause stress to a person which triggering the depression.

    • You’re absolutely correct. A little stress is generally good for us – it keeps us alert to danger and generally improves our performance. However, as you point out, chronic or too much stress related to past trauma (especially when PTSD is involved) often leads to depression in individuals. Good insights!

  • Maddy

    I enjoyed reading this post. I believe when someone is abused, depression can very well be an effect of it. People may be able to get over the abuse, however say if someone was abused with a belt, most likely anytime after the abuse if that person sees a belt then they will get the vision of abuse in their head and become scared and depressed all over again. This is called spontaneous recovery. Negative reinforcement is an example of abuse, which leads to the depression. I believe negative reinforcement such as abuse should never be applied to a subject.

    • Great thoughts. Thanks for reading Maddy!

  • Shawn

    This post had some very good point. When a person is abused, no matter the age, it can cause a lot of stress on the person which can result in long term depression. Especially if it is sexual abuse, because it causes them to be more stressed because they tend to feel more stressed and sometimes cause them to hate themselves. If someone is abused with a certain object, the bad memories can pop up in their head every single time they see an object similar to it. This is called classical conditioning, “a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly pair, a response that is at first elicited by the second stimulus is eventually elicited by the first stimulus alone”. For example, if someone is repeatedly abused with a belt for a long period of time, and the abuse stops or is still on going, seeing any type of belt could cause stress on the brain because of the link between abuse and the belt, causing them to be constantly stressed, causing them to be depressed. It can also be linked to negative reinforcement, which is “a situation in which a response results in the removal of, avoidance of, or escape from a punishing stimulus, increasing the likelihood that the response will be repeated in similar situations”. It can cause a lot of stress if what you were doing to deal with the stress of the abuse is suddenly taken away and now you have to deal with the stress on your on, which usually will just cause stress on the brain, leading to be more depressed.

    • Good thoughts Shawn. Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

  • oreo

    If a child who is abused constantly will have negative long term issues. The child will become depressed easily and in the long term might become aggressive. The child could become distant from people making it socially award. So, consequently these children will be more likely to Chronic depression.

  • McKenzie Clement

    It only makes sense that an abuse victim would have depression after what we all might consider to be traumatic. The memory in itself is pulled from a person’s long term memory or more specifically their episodic memory which is a subdivision of long term memory. It’s the part of the memory where a person is able to remember specific events or episodes, including the time and place. And this can be pulled from either your aware, explicit memory. Or your unaware, implicit memory. Either way, a traumatic experience is sure to trigger depression because it never goes extinct from a person’s memory.

    • Very true McKenzie. What I found most interesting about this study is the fact that the brain seems to change over time as a result of Chronic stress. Just another example of how our experiences (good and bad) shape who we are. Thanks for posting McKenzie!

  • Josh Goodman

    this post makes a lot of valid points. victims of abuse often think “why me” along with blaming themselves. They start to look at themselves as worthless, and that they deserve the abuse. And everything that they have ever thought wrong with themselves comes to the surface and is much worse then it would be without the abuse being present

  • jake

    I really like this post because When a person is abused, no matter the age, it can cause a lot of stress on the person which can result in long term depression. Especially if it is sexual abuse, because it causes them to be more stressed because they tend to feel more stressed and sometimes cause them to hate themselves. Also the result reveal that 10% of all the people interviewed said that they had undergone sexual abuse as children, but of those who suffered severe depression for more than five years, this proportion approached 40%. this has a lot to do with our section in psych because we are learning about memory and if you have been abused in any kind of way you will always remember that because it will automatically go into your long tem memory so therefore you wont ever forget what happened to you and that is just going to cause that stress and depression on your body and that isn’t healthy for the human body at all.

    • True Jake. While a limited amount of stress actually benefits us, chronic stress is a bad thing. This is amplified in abuse victims. Thanks for reading and responding. Good luck with your class!

  • Gabriella

    This concept seems very logical because those who suffer from depression tend to try to cope with the symptoms without seeking professional help, as with those who have suffered from abuse as children.
    To add on the idea that this concept is the same for both men and women, women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with major depression. This is because women are more prone to dwell on their problems and experience a greater degree of chronic stress in their daily life. So it might be a possibility that women would be even more likely to suffer from depression caused by abuse as a child.

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