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George W Brown

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George W. Brown was a British psychologist who explored the link between people’s social conditions and circumstances and their susceptibility to psychological illness. He is most notable for his work on the link between life events and depression.

Born in Portobello, London, in 1930, he was one of non-identical twins. His father, a lens maker, his mother had been a waitress.

He attended University College, London in 1951 studying archaeology and anthropology and it was only after a number of false starts that he got a post at the Social Psychiatry Research Unit at the Maudsley Hospital, London sometime after graduating. There he began the first phase of his research career studying chronic schizophrenia.

In the late 1960s he moved to the Social Research Unit at Bedford College, London, where he eventually became joint Director. Here is interest in depression grew.

He developed a semi-structured life event interview schedule and was able to demonstrate the causal relationship between recent life events and the onset of depression. In particular he was able to show that the well established class differences in susceptibility could be accounted for in terms of two sets of factors: the life events experienced in the previous year, and a set of four 'vulnerability' factors: · the absence of a confiding relationship, · having three or more children under 14 to look after, · not having paid work outside the home, and · the loss of one's mother before the age of 11.

He and his colleagues subsequently set up comparative studies in the Outer Hebrides, Spain and Zimbabwe, as well as a longitudinal study in Islington, each generally replicated his earlier findings. This work has also looked at other vulnerability factors such as childhood neglect, as well as the factors facilitating recovery from depression. In addition, he and his co-workers and students, have linked stressful life-events to a broad range of illnesses In 1989 he and Tirril Harris published, Life Events and Illness, included papers linking life events with anxiety, schizophrenia, appendicitis, abdominal pain, multiple sclerosis, heart attacks, and speech disorders as well as depression.

See also

Clinical depression and life events

References & Bibliography

Key texts


  • Wing J K & Brown G W (1970), Institutionalism and Schizophrenia.


  • Harris, T., Brown, G.W., Robinson, R.(1999). "Befriending as an intervention for chronic depression among women in an inner city 2: Role of fresh-start experiences and baseline psychosocial factors in remission from depression." British Journal of Psychiatry 174 225 - 232.
  • Bifulco, A., Brown, G.W., Moran, P., Ball, C., Campbell, C.(1998). "Predicting depression in women: the role of past and present vulnerability." Psychological Medicine 28 39 - 50.
  • Edwards, A.C., Nazroo, J.Y., Brown, G.W.(1998). "Gender differences in marital support following a shared life event." Social Science & Medicine 46 1077 - 1085.
  • Bifulco, A., Brown, G.W., Lillie, A., Jarvis, J.(1997). "Memories of childhood neglect and abuse: Corroboration in a series of sisters." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines 38 365 - 374 .
  • Brown, G.W., Moran, P.M.(1997). "Single mothers, poverty and depression." Psychological Medicine 27 21 - 33.
  • Nazroo, J.Y., Edwards, A.C., Brown, G.W.(1997). "Gender differences in the onset of depression following a shared life event: A study of couples." Psychological Medicine 27 9 - 19.
  • Bifulco, A., Brown, G.W.(1996). "Cognitive coping response to crises and onset of depression." Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 31 163 - 172, .
  • Brown, G.W., Harris, T.O., Eales, M.J.(1996). "Social factors and comorbidity of depressive and anxiety disorders." British Journal of Psychiatry 168 50 - 57.
  • Andrews, B., Brown, G.W.(1995). "Stability and change in low self-esteem - The role of psychosocial factors." Psychological Medicine 25 23 - 31, 1995..

Brown, G.W., Harris, T.O., Hepworth, C.. "Loss. humiliation and entrapment among women developing depression - A patient and nonpatient comparison." Psychological Medicine 25 7 - 21.

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