Psychological Medicine

Research Article

Social factors associated with depression: a retrospective community study

Charles G. Costelloa1 c1

a1 Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Canada


A procedural replication of the Camberwell retrospective community study of depression in women (Brown et al. 1975; Brown & Harris, 1978 a) was conducted in Calgary, Alberta. A random sample of 449 women between the ages of 18 and 65 were interviewed. The shorter form of the Present State Examination (PSE) and Brown's Interview Schedules for Life Events and Difficulties were used.

By contrast to the findings of Brown, none of the following factors was associated with the onset of depression in the 12 months prior to interview: social class, employment status, number of children at home, loss of mother before age 11. In agreement with Brown, a lack of intimacy with spouse/cohabitant/boyfriend increased the risk of depression. Also in agreement with Brown, severe life events and difficulties were associated with depression. The association was particularly strong for ‘possibly independent’ events and difficulties, i.e. events (and difficulties) that may or may not have been caused in part by the woman herself. It was concluded that the role of social factors is community-specific and that the causal roles of events and difficulties in relation to depression remain uncertain. The implications of the findings in relation to the locus of vulnerability to depression are briefly discussed


c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Charles G. Costello, Psychology Department, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive, N.W., Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada.