Category: Child / Adolescent - Depression


Defining “Moderate” Stress for the Steeling Effect

Sunday, November 19
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Sapphire 410, Level 4, Sapphire Level

Keywords: Depression | Stress | Resilience
Presentation Type: Symposium

Stressful life events increase risk for psychopathology.  The stress exposure hypothesis has been dominant in the field suggesting that greater stress exposure is associated with greater risk for depression. Rutter (2006), however, proposes that moderate stressors may serve a protective function and helps steel an individual and decrease depression risk.  For example, moderate stressors may provide the individual with the opportunity to develop and hone emotion regulation and coping skills that aid in attenuating the impact of future stressors.  However, to date, research has utilized drastically different definitions of “moderate” stress and there is not a clear definition of what constitutes “moderate” childhood and early adolescent stress.  The present study seeks to investigate a way to assess and quantify “low,” “moderate,” and “severe” stressors and test the steeling effect.  Seventy-eight college students were prescreened for prior major depression and constituted the distressed and non-distressed groups.  Participants were interviewed to confirm major depression diagnosis between ages of 15 to present.  Participants were asked to report on the 5 most impactful acute stressors prior to age 15.  A coding scheme was developed to code the stressors as normative stressors, tolerable stressors, and overwhelming stressors.  Several cutoffs were developed to create “low,” “moderate,” and “severe” stress groups.  Steeling effect would predict that individuals from the distressed/non-distressed groups would distribute differentially across the three stress categories with individuals in the moderate stress group having the lowest risk for depression.  The results indicated a clear definition for defining severe stressors that increase risk for depression to 50%.  The pattern of results was sometimes suggestive of a steeling effect but were more definitively in support of a stress exposure effect.  There is weak support for the steeling effect and the numbers suggest that it is difficult to find individuals who have gone through childhood without experiencing at least tolerable stressors to learn from.

Josephine Shih

Saint Joseph’s University


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Defining “Moderate” Stress for the Steeling Effect

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