Home Mental Health & Well-Being New Study: Stress Generation Not Unique to Depression

New Study: Stress Generation Not Unique to Depression

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In a recent study, psychology researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) discovered that stress generation may not be perpetuated only by depression. The study proved that the feedback loop, where mental health illnesses perpetuate themselves by causing stress, could be a more widespread problem. 

Published in the Psychological Bulletin, the study found that many mental disorders, not only depression, perpetuate themselves by generating stress. According to the researchers, this new discovery indicates that the cross-diagnostic phenomenon of stress generation contributes to the feedback loop of increasing psychopathology and stress.

Stress generation theory

Today, depression is still one of the several mental health conditions that can be challenging to overcome. Data from World Health Organization (WHO) show that 5% of adults suffer from this disorder.

One main reason depression can be tough to overcome is because it leads people to behave in ways that contribute to stress, which fuels mental illness.

The stress generation theory posits that people suffering from depression could be exposed to more stressors compared to others. It suggests that depressed patients are more likely to behave in ways that contribute to experiencing significant stressors. 

For example, people with depression might be more likely to procrastinate or have arguments with others. These instances can lead to more stressors at work, in their relationship, finances, education, or health.

The theory was first introduced to better understand why depression can be long-lasting, chronic, and difficult to overcome. However, this new research suggests that the phenomenon may not be specific to depression.

Stress generation across mental health disorders

In a recent interview, Dr Katerina Rnic, one of the researchers, discussed the team’s findings from the new study. 

Rnic said the team performed a meta-analysis that evaluated existing research on stress generation and found evidence for stress generation not only in depression but across various mental health disorders. The team cited childhood disruptive disorders, personality disorders, anxiety, and substance use.

For the study, the team considered two different kinds of stressors: dependent and independent. The former occurs partly due to the subject’s actions. Meanwhile, the latter refers to events that people had no control over, such as the death of a loved one or natural disasters.

The researchers saw that people with mental disorders experienced more dependent stressors than those without mental disorders. 

This discovery provides the most substantial support yet for stress generation theory. It suggests that people suffering from mental disorders actively promoted more significant stressors. This finding is crucial because it can also mean that people with mental health issues have some power over the amount of stress they experience.

The research team also found that dependent stressors perpetuate mental disorders over time, which creates a loop of symptoms and stress.

When asked if the phenomena could affect some people more than others, Rnic said the effects were strongest among children, adolescents, and young adults. However, older adults could also generate stress, but not to the same degree as others.

She added that the team found no differences in stress generation by race, gender, or geographic location. This finding proved that stress generation is a universal phenomenon that impacts people from diverse backgrounds.

The recent findings highlight the need for researchers to integrate stress generation into empirical and conceptual models of mental health disorders beyond only depression. Doing so can help better understand and treat various forms of psychopathology. 

Moreover, these efforts will be crucial for psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, educators, and other professionals who work with people with mental disorders.

How patients can manage stress generation

Rnic mentioned that the new research presents crucial opportunities for interventions to help patients end the stress-generation cycle. 

The researchers specified risk factors that predicted dependent stressors over time, which include:

  • Negative thoughts
  • Interpersonal behaviours
  • Excessive personal standards

Considering stress generation is a universal phenomenon, the researchers believe that developing interventions focused on stress generation across diagnoses can be a promising next step. These interventions could be effective for many patients, regardless of their diagnosis.

Addressing the risk factors above and getting help for mental health conditions are crucial steps to breaking the cycle of mental health problems and stress. 

The WHO also released a stress management guide to help people manage everyday stress. The guide includes the following stress management tips:

  • Follow a daily routine
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcoholic beverages before going to bed
  • Eat healthily​
  • Exercise regularly ​
  • Limit the time spent on reading news​
  • Sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day
  • Rest in a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment
  • Limit screen time
  • Get some exercise
  • Connect with friends and family

These recent discoveries highlight the importance of being educated about mental health disorders and their impact on patients. 

If your loved ones suffer from mental health issues, you must learn how to help them cope and find the best treatment options. Fortunately, there are various mental health resources online that can help you stay informed.


Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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