Low self worth is an important indicator used by clinicians as one possible symptom when they diagnose a depressive disorder. But does low self worth cause depression or vice versa?

Researchers have long wondered about the chicken-and-egg problem of self worth and depression. Which came first? Low self worth 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 whom you are as a person.

The only way to disentangle the highly related concepts of self worth 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 worth to depression vs. depression to self worth.

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

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

A person with low self worth is likely to take things personally, and in a negative way, when dealing with day-to-day stress. People with low self worth 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 worth 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 worth.

It’s important to remember that low self worth 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 worth. 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.

So what can we all do? Let’s all raise the awareness of the dangers of low self worth to help prevent the onset of depression and other serious conditions such as anxiety.

Elizabeth Venzin is the Founder and CEO of the Australian Not-for-Profit Organisation The MindShift Foundation. Resources about self worth can be found on the MindShift website www.mindshift.org.au

Originally published at medium.com