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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 53 (2011) 6, 321 - 332

New research

Positive life events and mood disorders: longitudinal evidence for a chaotic life-course hypothesis

G. Overbeek, A. Vermulst, R. de Graaf, M. ten Have, R. Engels, R. Scholte

background In psychiatric research it is often assumed that detrimental effects of negative life events on mental health can be buffered by a number of positive life events. However, there is no convincing empirical evidence that this assumption is correct; it can even be argued that positive life events act as additional stressors rather than as buffers, leading to a continuation of a chaotic life course and an increase in the risk of affective disorders.
aim To find out whether positive life events were associated with a higher risk of the occurrence of mood disorders and whether such an association could be explained by a number of negative life events that individuals had experienced.
method We used data from 4,796 adults, aged 18-64, collected at two measurement moments (i.e. 1997 and 1999) of nemesis, a Dutch prospective-epidemiological study. As a basis for our measurements we used dsm-iii-r diagnoses of major depressive disorders and dysthymia and the Life Events and Difficulties Schedules (leds). results A multivariate (MPlus) path analysis demonstrated that positive life events were not, in themselves, significantly predictive of affective disorders. Positive life events were only related to the risk of mood disorders when they co-occurred with a high number of negative life events.
conclusions In accordance with a chaotic life-course hypothesis, positive events were not found to buffer the detrimental impact of negative life events, but when they are part of an erratic course of life they can pose an extra threat to an individual’s mental health.

keywords longitudinal, mood disorders, negative life events, nemesis, positive life events