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Stress linked to increased risk of depressive and anxiety disorders

The JAMA Network Journals

CHICAGO - High levels of stress during childhood and young adulthood are associated with depressive and anxiety disorders among young adults, according to an article in the May issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

The idea that stress or adversity (major and potentially traumatic events experienced during one's lifetime) affect health and well-being is widely accepted by the public and by many researchers and physicians, the article states. Evidence has accumulated linking exposure to recent stressful events with psychological distress, most typically with depressive symptoms.

R. Jay Turner, Ph.D., and Donald A. Lloyd, Ph.D., of Florida State University, Tallahassee, investigated whether lifetime exposure to adversity was a risk factor for the later onset of depressive and anxiety disorders.

The researchers conducted a 1,803 interviews (between 1998 and 2000) among a sample of individuals aged 18 to 23 years living in a southern Florida community, most of whom participated in another study five to seven years earlier. Participants were interviewed (either in their homes or over the telephone) and were assessed for major depression, dysthymia (a mild, chronic form of depression), generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, panic disorder, alcohol abuse and dependence, drug abuse and dependence, posttraumatic stress disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Interviewers also asked about specific kinds of stressful events or traumatic incidents over the course of the participants' lifetimes.

The researchers found that the level of lifetime exposure to adversity was associated with an increased risk of developing depressive or anxiety disorders.

The researchers write: "As previously reported, these results indicate that exposure to major and potentially traumatic events is commonplace among young people, at least in South Florida. The typical African American in the sample had experienced more than nine such events, and the remaining three groups [Cuban, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic white] averaged more than six. A total of 26 of the 33 events examined were associated with significantly increased risk for a depressive or anxiety disorder. In some cases the experience itself may be implicated in the observed elevation in risk, whereas in others the event may represent simply a marker for the occurrence of other stressors and/or the presence of other significant risk factors."

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(Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2004;61:481-488. Available post-embargo at archgenpsychiatry.com) Editor's Note: This study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, Bethesda, Md.

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312/464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail mediarelations@jama-archives.org .

To contact R. Jay Turner, Ph.D., call Jill Elish at 850/644-8345.

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