The link between depression and attributional styles

Why do individuals lie? Why do people behave so differently in the same situations? These questions are constantly asked, and inferences are thereby made to try and answer such questions. Social psychologists have researched these questions and the results have shown that individuals form perceptions of one another and the environment. Social perceptions are picked up on through interactions with others, and observing one’s behaviour’s, appearance and communication; both verbally and non-verbally.

Individuals who tend to attribute their failures to internal, stable and controllable factors are more vulnerable to develop clinical depression. People with major depression are also vulnerable to mood problems, such as; anxiety, self-mutilation and other forms of self-harm. Individual differences in one’s attributional styles affect the health of said individuals. An individual suffering with depression has very low sense of self in all aspects. Trying to change a person’s negative attributional style into a positive one can prove very challenging; however, it is possible.

The first step is to increase an individual’s awareness. Depression finds subtle, yet persistent ways that allow individuals to explain perceived failures as being entirely their fault, without considering potential external causes. Any successes are dismissed without being given a second thought. Focusing on one’s awareness enables the person to understand their characteristic ways of thinking, in other words one’s attributional style. This style is generally working against the person. The next step is to practice daily, a different attributional style. This process requires a lot of work; however, it is very effective once the awkward first stage is passed. This process allows individuals to accept credit for their successes instead of dismissing them and to withhold blaming themselves solely for failures.

Studies have been done regarding depression and attributional styles. Each research shows the results that a negative attributional style is linked with depression. Depressed and lonely individuals viewed their interpersonal failures as unchangeable characteristics within themselves. Negative attributional styles increased an individual’s vulnerability which allowed them to be taken advantage of and this thereby lowered one’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth drastically. So take the time to get to know an individual for who they truly are before making assumptions regarding the person’s character.

What do you think?

4 points

Written by Ronel Mcintosh

3rd year Psychology student with a passion for helping and engaging with others to create better futures. 


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  1. Depression hurts. It is also very common and almost everybody has an episode at one point in their life. It’s usually a major event that knocks them off their feet. Some go through a downward spiral but they have the will and desire to lift themselves up again and move forward. They get needed support to make it through that rough period. But for others, it’s harder. Not impossible. Just harder. The main thing about depression, regardless of what caused it, is … PEOPLE SHOULD GET HELP! So many suicides could have been prevented.

    • People are all different and respond differently. For many, suicide is the most logical route to take because it seems the least painful at the time. Many are unable to reach out for help due to feelings of shame, fear of retaliation, or a fear of being placed in an institution deemed as ‘abnormal’.

      • Yes. That is the saddest part of depression. People feel too ashamed to ask for help. That’s on us! We need to do something to let them know they can get help. I know that we have suicide hotlines. But that only will only work if the person makes the phone call.

        We – the people who are NOT in depression – need to make ourselves more aware and sensitive to the persons in our lives who are suffering and don’t want to live anymore. It’s on us. I know sometimes it’s hard to spot or identify. But more often than not people do know the person is down in the dumps. Sure it’s a heavy responsibility to try to lift them up again. But that’s what you do when you love someone.

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