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Are Low Self-Esteem and Depression the Same Thing?

The Similarities and Differences in Self-Esteem and Depression

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Updated September 20, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Given the clear association between low self-esteem and depression risk, many researchers have questioned whether or not depression and self-esteem are actually the same concept.

Both self-esteem and depression are thought to work on a sort of continuum, or scale, ranging from high to low self-esteem, and no symptoms to debilitating depressive symptoms.

Similarities between Low Self-Esteem and Depression

Low self-esteem and depression share many of the same signs and symptoms, including:

  • Reckless behavior
  • Sexual risk-taking
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Social withdrawal and avoidance
  • Academic decline
  • Aggressive behavior (anger, violence)
  • Difficulty with interpersonal relationships
  • Self-consciousness

Differences between Low Self-Esteem and Depression

Despite the obvious similarities between self-esteem and depression, research supports the view that they are, in fact, separate and different concepts.

In a review of studies, researchers found identifiable differences between self-esteem and depression. They reported that self-esteem remains fairly stable, or unchanged, over a lifetime; while depression is naturally unstable, or constantly changing, from day-to-day and year-to-year.

Despite the similarities, it is more likely that low self-esteem is a risk factor for depression in children, rather than that they are the same concepts, the researchers concluded.

Preventing Depression in Children

While a child with low self-esteem may be at risk for a depressive episode, it does not necessarily mean she is currently depressed. This key finding gives you a unique opportunity to seek early preventative treatment for your child. Preventative treatments have been shown to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms in children at-risk for depression.

If your child shows signs of low self-esteem or depression, talk to her pediatrician or other mental health provider for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment options.

Sources:

Jonathon D. Brown. The Self. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1998

Linda J. Koenig, PhD; Lynda S. Doll, PhD; Ann O'Leary, PhD; and Willo Pequegnat, PhD. From Child Sexual Abuse to Adult Sexual Risk: Trauma, Revictimization, and Intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2003.

Ulrich Orth, Richard W. Robins, Brent W. Roberts. Low Self-Esteem Prospectively Predicts Depression in Adolescence and Young Adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2008; 95(3): 695-708.

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