THE BLOG

Is Low Self-Esteem Making You Vulnerable to Depression?

21/10/2014 09:30 BST | Updated 20/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Friday the 10th of October was World Mental Health Day, and globally, organisations and individuals are working to improve the understanding and awareness of mental health.

In Australia the 2014 Queensland Mental Health Week Achievement Awards was an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the achievement of individuals, groups, organisations and businesses who are all making a real difference. I was really excited as both Kerry Armstrong - Actor and Mind Shift Ambassador, and I was invited to join the Award's Judging Panel.

We know now that we need to raise the awareness of the dangers of low self-esteem, and one of the reasons is because low self-esteem can lead to depression and other serious conditions such as anxiety.

Low self-esteem is an important indicator used by clinicians as one possible symptom when they diagnose a depressive disorder. But does low self-esteem cause depression or vice versa? Researchers have long wondered about the chicken-and-egg problem of self-esteem and depression. Which came first? Low self-esteem or depression? Certainly, if you dislike yourself, you're more likely to be depressed. Conversely, if you're depressed, you're more likely to feel bad about who you are as a person.

The only way to disentangle the highly related concepts of self-esteem and depression is through longitudinal research, in which people are followed up over time. A study on depression, conducted by University of Basel researchers Julia Sowislo and Ulrich Orth, contrasted the competing directions of self-esteem to depression vs. depression to self-esteem.

The findings almost all overwhelmingly support the model which showed, over time, that low self-esteem is a risk factor for depression, regardless of who is tested and how. The study indicated that low self-esteem causes depression but not vice versa. Therefore, if a person has low self-esteem, there's an increased risk of developing depression. This is a very important discovery because it shows that working towards bettering low self-esteem can make a person feel stronger.

Australian Clinical Psychologist and leading self-esteem advocate Dr Lars Madsen says that regardless of how self-esteem impacts depression, the reality often is that for many people self-esteem is a key factor in both the development and maintenance of depression.

A person with low self-esteem is likely to take things personally, and in a negative way, when dealing with day-to-day stress. People with low self-esteem try to not to disprove but to verify their negative self-concept by seeking disparaging feedback from the people in their network. Their negative moods can lead to them being perceived in a poor fashion, which in turn can lead to feelings of hurt and rejection. In focusing on their inadequacies and the negative feedback they may receive from others, depressive symptoms can develop as a result.

Dr Lars Madsen confirms it's rare to find studies in psychology on topics such as self-esteem and depression that allow for any causal arguments to be made. However, from the large and comprehensive Swiss study, the conclusion was that the best way to protect your positive moods is to find ways to maintain a healthy self-esteem.

It's important to remember that low self-esteem can contribute to the development and maintenance of depression over time. Equally important to remember is that it's possible to learn to change your thinking and thereby improve your self-esteem. Doing so can assist you to not only feel better day-to-day, but make you better able to deal with setbacks and difficult times.