Send to

Choose Destination
Br J Clin Psychol. 2019 Apr 13. doi: 10.1111/bjc.12221. [Epub ahead of print]

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

Author information

Department of Psychology, Middlesex University, London, UK.
Centre for Psychiatry, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts & London School of Medicine & Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, UK.
Psychosis Studies, Kings College London, UK.
Social Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London, UK.



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.


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.


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.


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.


Salient features of severe life events (e.g., loss, humiliation) give insight into the potential impact on attachment vulnerability and depression. Clinicians and researchers can use online methods to economically gain detailed life event information needed for clinical formulation and valid data on stressors. The self-reported scale for recent depression is only a proxy measure of clinical disorder, but the clinical group selection is a more robust criterion for depression history.


attachment; depression; life events; online measurement


Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center