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Kindling (mental health)

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Kindling is a hypothesized process that is relevent to a number of mental health disorders which can return after an inital episode.

It has been shown that the occurence of one episode may make another more likely.

A number of ideas have been proposed to explain this:

  • Sensitization hypothesis. This suggests that with the increasing experience of the disorder progressively less severe external conditions can trigger subsequent episodes. Anticipatory response repetoires may hieghten stress and trigger characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving which may make onset more likely. For example one might withdraw from social involvement, anticipating depression or psychosis, but the subsequent lack of social support and activity scheduling may make onset more likely.
  • Autonomous hypothesis. This suggests that whereas the initial trigger for the disorder is related to external events that subsequent occurences may be mediated by internal processes. For example having been depressed once I may come to regard myself as a depressed person , which may lead to negative self image, lack of confidence etc etc, enough to cause me to become depressed again.


Main article: Depression - Kindling theory


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Monroe, S M & Harkness. K L (2005). Life stress, the'kindling hypothesis', and the recurrence of depression; Considerations from a life stress perspective. Psychological Review, 112,417-445.

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