Wednesday 01 February 2023

A stress-free childhood increases the risk of depression: research

A Dutch researcher has found that children who have a stress-free, happy childhood have a greater risk of developing depression when they grow up.

Esther Nederhof from Groningen’s UMCG university teaching hospital studied 1,000 youngsters and found that those who had a happy childhood were more prone to depression as adults.

Stress is an important cause of depression and Nederhof set out to find out why some people develop depression after a period of stress and others do not.

She found that children who have had relatively stress-free childhoods have a greater chance of developing depression if they encounter stress as adults. The results of the research are due to be published in Psychological Science this week.


‘If you adapt to a stressful situation when you are young, you are mentally better prepared when you are older,’ she is quoted as saying by news agency ANP.

‘It would appear that people who are programmed to deal with stress from a young age can adapt to their environment as an animal would,’ she said.

This would also explain the differences in the way professionals such as soldiers and police officers react to stressful situations, ANP quoted her as saying.

According to local newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden, not all young people will become depressed if they have an easy childhood. People who are good at switching tasks are also less likely to be affected by stress, Nederhof said.

‘They are more likely to shrug their shoulders and get on with things, rather than brooding on stressful events,’ she told the paper. 

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