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

Bifulco, Antonia ORCID logoORCID:, Kagan, Lisa, Spence, Ruth ORCID logoORCID:, Nunn, Stephen ORCID logoORCID:, Bailey-Rodriguez, Deborah ORCID logoORCID:, Hosang, Georgina M., Taylor, Matthew and Fisher, Helen L. (2019) Characteristics of severe life events, attachment style, and depression – Using a new online approach. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58 (4) . pp. 427-439. ISSN 0144-6657 [Article] (doi:10.1111/bjc.12221)

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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.

Practitioner points
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.

Item Type: Article
Keywords (uncontrolled): Clinical Psychology, General Medicine
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology > Psychology > Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS)
Item ID: 26449
Notes on copyright: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Bifulco, A., Kagan, L., Spence, R., Nunn, S., Bailey‐Rodriguez, D., Hosang, G., Taylor, M. and Fisher, H.L. (2019), Characteristics of severe life events, attachment style, and depression – Using a new online approach. Br J Clin Psychol, 58: 427-439. doi:10.1111/bjc.12221, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.
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Depositing User: Jisc Publications Router
Date Deposited: 23 Apr 2019 14:27
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 18:50

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