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Do Life Events Trigger Mental Disorders?

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A new epidemiological study performed in Italy addresses an old question in a recent issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Although life events have been consistently reported as precipitating factors for most psychiatric disorders, there is no comprehensive investigation of the relationship between severe life events and psychiatric disorders in the general population.

This is a community-based study of psychiatric disorders among a cohort representative of adults in an Italian town. A total of 2,363 subjects out of 2,500 selected to be representative of the population living in Sesto Fiorentino, central Italy, were interviewed by their own general practitioner using the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview.

Of the 613 subjects, 609 who resulted positive for any psychiatric disorders and 123 out of a random sample of 130 negatives were re-interviewed by the psychiatrists using the Florence Psychiatric Interview. The Florence Psychiatric Interview was used to explore each distinct psychiatric episode. Life events were recorded in detail by a specific interview.

During the year prior to the onset of the first psychiatric disorder, 35.8% of cases suffered from at least a severe event, compared with 12.2% of non-cases during a comparable period (OR = 4.0, 95% CI = 2.3-7.1). The excess of life events occurred for almost all the diagnostic categories. The same results were reproduced even when only the ‘independent’ life events were considered.

The distribution of the events through the 12 months taken into account showed an even distribution of events among non-cases, whereas there was a clear accumulation in the last 3 months prior to the onset of the pathology in the cases. Life stress is one of the main precipitating factors of psychopathology.

Psychother Psychosom. 2007;76(6):361-8.

Epidemiology of life events: life events and psychiatric disorders in the Sesto Fiorentino study.

Faravelli C, Catena M, Scarpato A, Ricca V.

Dipartimento di Scienze Neurologiche e Psichiatriche, University of Florence, Firenze, Italy. carlo.faravelli@unifi.it

BACKGROUND: Although life events have been consistently reported as precipitating factors for most psychiatric disorders, there is no comprehensive investigation of the relationship between severe life events and psychiatric disorders in the general population. METHODS: This is a community-based study of psychiatric disorders among a cohort representative of adults in an Italian town. A total of 2,363 subjects out of 2,500 selected to be representative of the population living in Sesto Fiorentino, central Italy, were interviewed by their own general practitioner using the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview. Of the 613 subjects, 609 who resulted positive for any psychiatric disorders and 123 out of a random sample of 130 negatives were re-interviewed by the psychiatrists using the Florence Psychiatric Interview. The Florence Psychiatric Interview was used to explore each distinct psychiatric episode. Life events were recorded in detail by a specific interview. RESULTS: During the year prior to the onset of the first psychiatric disorder, 35.8% of cases suffered from at least a severe event, compared with 12.2% of non-cases during a comparable period (OR = 4.0, 95% CI = 2.3-7.1). The excess of life events occurred for almost all the diagnostic categories. The same results were reproduced even when only the ‘independent’ life events were considered. The distribution of the events through the 12 months taken into account showed an even distribution of events among non-cases, whereas there was a clear accumulation in the last 3 months prior to the onset of the pathology in the cases. CONCLUSIONS: Life stress is one of the main precipitating factors of psychopathology. 2007 S. Karger AG, Basel

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