Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Aetiology of anxiety and depressive disorders in an inner-city population. 2. Comorbidity and adversity

G. W. Browna1 c1, T. O. Harrisa1 and M. J. Ealesa1

a1 Department of Social Policy and Social Science, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College; Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, London


An earlier paper documented that adverse experiences in childhood and adolescence considerably raise risk of both depressive and anxiety conditions (with the exception of mild agoraphobia and simple phobia) in adult life. This paper deals with the same inner-city women with children at home. Consideration of adverse experiences throughout adulthood as a whole (excluding the period just before onset) particularly involving major prior losses suggests that rather different aetiological processes may be involved. Depression appears to be often linked to experiences of major loss in adulthood as a whole and to be particularly susceptible to shortcomings in the quality of ongoing social support. For anxiety only early adverse experiences appeared to be critical. (However, the onset of both conditions is often provoked by a severely threatening event in the most recent period – particularly ‘loss’ in depression, and ‘danger’ in anxiety.) Finally the critical role of early experience for both anxiety and depression explains to a considerable extent why they so often occur together; and social factors not studied in the present enquiry may account for some of the remaining unexplained comorbidity.


c1 Address for correspondence: Professor G. W. Brown, Department of Social Policy and Social Science, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (University of London), 11 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3RA.