Research Suggests The Most Telling Sign Someone Will Become Depressed

Research Suggests The Most Telling Sign Someone Will Become Depressed



“…negatively biased self-referential processing contributed unique variance to the likelihood of experiencing a depressive episode over the next 3 years.” – LeMoult, J., et. al: “Negative Self-Referential Processing Predicts the Recurrence of Major Depressive Episodes.”

We all understand that self-criticism is not a very good habit; yet, most of us – if not all of us – have criticized ourselves over something. Some of us engage in self-criticism every day, some repeatedly through the day. Even people with the utmost inner-confidence will criticize themselves, albeit much less frequently than most.

When we engage in self-criticism, although we will certainly feel bad for at least a short period of time, we don’t really think about its impact on our health. The same can be said for many other stressors of the subtle variety. Similarly, self-criticism is a stressor and it does impact our health.


Especially our mental health.

We’re going to discuss a recent study involving patients diagnosed with depression; along with the repercussions that a negative self-image had on these individuals as time passed. Finally, we’ll provide some professional advice on coping with the behavior.

Self-criticism and Depression: A Study

In a recent study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Southern California examine the relationship, if any, between “negatively biased self-referential processing, negative life events, baseline depressive symptoms and psychotropic medication” and recurring depression.

The term “self-referential processing” is defined as “the process of experiencing stimuli as they relate to one’s self.” When we constantly perceive ourselves in a negative way – as the researchers theorized – the likelihood for repeat bouts with depression is much higher.



To gain insight into the potential relationship between negative self-image and repeating episodic depression, researchers recruited 100 women diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD. Participants were in “full remission,” not have experienced a depressive episode in two months.

The research team developed a multi-step process with the participants to test their theory:

(1) Researchers “induced a negative mood state” by having the women watch random clips of films, visualizing the characters in the adverse situation, and rating their mood on a 5-point scale.


(2) Using a computer program, researchers “encoded” self-referential attitudes, subsequently subjecting participants to repeated, different means of affirmation.

(3) Administration of a 21-item, self-reported inventory of any depressive symptoms.

(4) Completion of psychological assessments once every 18 months, over a period of 3 years.

The scientists observed…

“…more negative self-referential processing at baseline (measurements) significantly increased the likelihood that formerly depressed individuals would experience a recurrent MDE (Major Depressive Episode) over the next 3 years.”

Of all concurrent and prospective variables measured in the study – negatively biased self-referential processing, negative life events, baseline depressive symptoms and pharmacological effects – researchers observed disproportionately higher rates of recurring depression from a negative self-image.


The researchers note the similarity in results between this and other studies; including in those studies that correlate negative self-image and recurring depression in children and adolescents.

In simple terms: these scientists found a direct link between continuous negative self-image and repeating depression. Furthermore, these observations were consistent across variables, including: age, ethnicity, income, education, and marital status.

What this all means…

Mental health professionals are well aware of the problem of recurring depression. Something a bit murkier is the rationale behind recurring depressive episodes and symptoms. Thus, the discovery that a persistent, negative self-image correlates with higher rates of depression is an important one.

While acknowledging the need for additional measures (e.g. scientific studies, surveys, data), the authors state: “Identifying negative biases in self-referential processing as a risk factor for recurrence has important implications for intervention efforts.”


Scientific lingo aside, any discovery relating to thought and/or behavioral patterns as a risk-factor for recurring depression is an important one. Not only can such findings improve the quality of life, they are likely to save lives.

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