Acute and chronic stress predict anti-depressant treatment outcome and naturalistic course of major depression: A CAN-BIND report Journal Articles uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: In treatment studies of major depressive disorder (MDD), exposure to major life events predicts less symptom improvement and greater likelihood of relapse. In contrast, the impact of minor life events has received less attention. We hypothesized that the impact of minor events on symptom improvement and risk of relapse would be heightened in the presence of concurrent chronic stress. We also hypothesized that major events would predict less symptom improvement and greater risk of relapse independently of chronic stress. METHODS: Adult patients experiencing an episode of MDD were enrolled into a 16-week trial with antidepressant treatments (n = 156). Forty-three fully remitted patients agreed to participate in a naturalistic 18-month follow-up, and 30 had full data for analyses. Life events and chronic stressors were assessed using a contextual life stress interview. RESULTS: Greater exposure to minor events predicted greater improvement in symptoms during acute treatment, but this relation was specific to those who reported greater severity of chronic stress. During follow-up, however, major life events predicted increased risk of relapse, and this effect was not moderated by chronic stress. LIMITATION: High attrition rates led to a small sample size for the follow-up analyses. CONCLUSIONS: Exposure to minor events may provide an opportunity to practice problem-solving skills, thereby facilitating symptom improvement. Nevertheless, acute treatment did not protect patients from relapse when they subsequently faced major events during follow-up. Therefore, adjunctive strategies may be needed to enhance outcomes during pharmacotherapy, consolidating benefits from acute treatment and providing skills to prevent relapse.


  • Hicks, Owen
  • McInerney, Shane J
  • Lam, Raymond W
  • Milev, Roumen V
  • Frey, Benicio
  • Soares, Claudio N
  • Foster, Jane
  • Rotzinger, Susan
  • Kennedy, Sidney H
  • Harkness, Kate L

publication date

  • September 2022