Life Events Trigger Psychiatric Disorders
> 11/24/2007 11:41:14 AM

It is commonly assumed that traumatic life events precipitate psychiatric problems, but this perception has been based on anecdotal observations rather than systematic study. A sufficiently rigorous experiment, led by Dr. Carlo Faravelli, just appeared in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. This study firmly establishes that the perceived link is a reality.

Dr. Faravelli went to the Italian town of Sesto Fiorentino and examined a representative sample of 2,363 citizens. While the Roman architecture and the citizens have withstood much, they are not free from the scars of time. General practitioners kept track of psychiatric disorders with the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview. Periodic interviews also collected life event information so that a chronology could be compiled.

Statistical analysis showed that severe life events were much more common in the year preceding a disorder diagnosis than a normal year (35.8% compared to 12.2%). This three-fold difference persisted even when researchers tried to exclude all life events that could have been catalyzed by a mental problem, and it held for almost every category of diagnosis.

Another interesting thing about the pattern of life events was that there was a concentration in the three months preceding a diagnosis. Comparing this bunching to the uniformly distributed pattern of healthy patients, it is clear that life events trigger mental disorders, or at least their transformation into problems with symptoms obvious enough for diagnosis.

While the results of this study are hardly shocking, they are a necessary part of scientific progress. Psychiatry has been bedeviled by mistaken assumptions many times in the past, so it is imperative that even the most obvious-seeming links are interrogated. With the correlation between traumatic life events and psychiatric problems firmly established, friends and doctors are fully justified in paying closer attention to the mental health of those who have recently gone through a tribulation.

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