The University of Sussex

Cognitive appraisal of life events preceding depression

Keith Oatley

Psychological theories of depression need to account for the finding that as many as 90 per cent of onsets of clinically diagnosable depression in patients and in community samples are reactions to severely threatening life events and difficulties. Less severe events and difficulties, though producing mood changes, do not result in clinical depression. The majority of severe events and difficulties are psychosocial losses and disappointments. A cognitive theory is presented and related to data on severe losses, such as unemployment. The distress which results from a loss or disappointment depends on the appraisal of discrepancy between an expectation and the actual behaviour of another person or persons with whom some explicit or implicit mutual plan was in progress. The distress becomes depression when the plan was one which fulfilled a major goal by which the sufferer defines her - or himself, and when she or he has no alternative plans available to fulfil this goal.

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