Characteristics of severe life events, attachment style, and depression – Using a new online approach

Antonia Bifulco, Lisa Kagan, Ruth Spence, Stephen Nunn, Deborah Bailey-Rodriguez, Georgina M Hosang, Matthew John Taylor, Helen Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
286 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives. Severe life events are established as provoking agents for depression in combination with vulnerability factors. Identifying features of severe events improves the prediction of disorder but are rarely utilized, mainly because life event research is increasingly dominated by self-report checklists with no capacity for inferring such characteristics. This paper investigates the association of severe life events’ features with depression and insecure attachment styles using a new online measure of life events in a clinical and control sample.

Methods. A total of 202 participants (75 clinical and 127 matched control participants), taken from an earlier national Depression Case Control genetic study and followed up after 12 years, completed the Computerised Life Events Assessment Record to assess characteristics of life events, the Vulnerable Attachment Style Questionnaire to measure attachment insecurity, and the General Health Questionnaire to measure depression.

Results. The clinical group had higher self-reported depression, severe life events, and insecure attachment style. They also reported more loss, danger, humiliation, and trauma severe events. Intra-respondent analysis showed individuals experiencing these types of events were more likely to report depression. Insecure attachment style and severe life events were both significantly related to recent depression and history of depressive disorder. Anxious attachment style was significantly related to relationship events and
bereavements, as well as severe loss or humiliation events, whereas avoidant style was not.

Conclusions. Identifying salient features of severe life events improves associations with depression and insecure attachment style. Utilizing a new online approach can aid research and clinical approaches for depression at low cost.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-439
Number of pages13
JournalBritish Journal of Clinical Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date13 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


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