The topic which is proposed to be studied is the relationship between depression and self-esteem. In this case, self-esteem can be defined as “individual’s subjective evaluation of his or her worth as a person”; it does not necessarily describe one’s real talents, and high self-esteem does not mean an individual feels superior to others (Orth, Robins, Meier, & Conger, 2016, p. 134). On the other hand, depression can be understood as a state which is characterized by several interrelated cognitive, physiological, and affective symptoms; these symptoms include sadness, the lack of ability to feel pleasure, the dearth of concentration, hopelessness, and problems with sleep (Orth & Robins, 2013, pp. 455-456).
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Both levels of depression and levels of self-esteem can be measured as continuous variables (Orth & Robins, 2013; Sowislo & Orth, 2013; Steiger, Allemand, Robins, & Fend, 2014), and the relationship between these variables will be assessed in the proposed research study. It is expected that lower levels of self-esteem will be a risk factor for depression (i.e., that self-esteem will serve as one of the factors affecting the levels of depression) (Millings, Buck, Montgomery, Spears, & Stallard, 2012; Orth & Robins, 2013; Orth, Robins, Widaman, & Conger, 2014; Sowislo & Orth, 2013).
The offered topic of study is practically significant because depression is a prevalent disorder not only in the U.S. but also worldwide, and it is stated that the major depressive disorder was the 4th leading case of disability in the world in 2012 and that it is expected to be the 2nd leading cause of such disability in 2020 (Kessler, 2012).
This topic is significant to the field of psychology because psychology deals with the individuals’ behaviors, mind, and mental states, and depression, as has been stressed before, involves several cognitive and affective symptoms; self-esteem is also connected to several psychological factors and might be considered a psychological phenomenon; so it is important to establish and describe the connection between the two phenomena further.
Finally, the topic is significant to the specialization of general psychology because it concerns the relationship of two psychological phenomena which are assumed to be correlated, and which may develop in an individual in conditions that appear normal in the contemporary society. It should be stressed that the topic does not belong to the field of clinical psychology because it does not focus on the treatment of clinical depression, it only seeks to describe one of the causes of depression which exists in the normal setting, and probably to show a way to lower the prevalence of depression outside the clinical setting (Muñoz, Beardslee, & Leykin, 2012). The target population will include adult persons with low levels of self-esteem and suffering from depression.
It will be offered to check whether enhancing self-esteem might lower the levels of depression. According to the research literature, it is apparent that there exists a correlation between the levels of self-esteem and depression (Orth et al., 2014). It is stated that lower self-esteem might predict a higher incidence of depression (Sowislo & Orth, 2013). This is called the vulnerability model because according to it, lower self-esteem makes an individual vulnerable to depression (Orth & Robins, 2013).
The vulnerability model was tested in several studies, and evidence was found to support it (Orth & Robins, 2013; Orth et al., 2016; Sowislo & Orth, 2013; Steiger et al., 2014). Therefore, it might be considered that it is known that low self-esteem is a risk factor for depression. As a result, it appears logical to assume that enhancing self-esteem should decrease depression.
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However, even though some older studies show that certain kinds of psychological/cognitive therapy simultaneously increased self-esteem and lowered the rates of depression, it is unclear whether an intervention purposefully enhancing self-esteem only (and not aimed at depression, as much as this is possible) could lower the rates of depression, which constitutes a knowledge gap. Therefore, the research problem for the offered study is to find out whether enhancing persons’ self-esteem via an intervention purposefully not aimed at addressing depression may lower the risk of developing more severe depression or decrease the existing level of depression.
Research Problem Background
A wide range of literature considers the issues of self-esteem and depression together (Behnke, Plunkett, Sands, & Bámaca-Colbert, 2011; Buhrmester, Blanton, & Swann, 2011; Derdikman‐Eiron et al., 2011; El Kissi et al., 2013; Erol & Orth, 2011; Forest & Wood, 2012; Luciano & Orth, 2017; Neff, 2011; Orth & Luciano, 2015; Orth, Maes, & Schmitt, 2015; Specht et al., 2014), indicating that there might exist an association between them (Elion, Wang, Slaney, & French, 2012; Lee-Flynn, Pomaki, DeLongis, Biesanz, & Puterman, 2011; Rey, Extremera, & Pena, 2011; Valiente et al., 2011; Witherspoon, Latta, Wang, & Black, 2013; Zeiders, Umaña-Taylor, & Derlan, 2013).
Two main models of such a relationship existed: the scar model, according to which depression reduces self-esteem (Orth & Robins, 2013; Sowislo & Orth, 2013), and the vulnerability model, according to which low self-esteem makes one vulnerable to depression (Orth et al., 2016; Orth et al., 2014; Zeigler-Hill, 2011). However, the vulnerability model has received greater support in the literature (Lee, Dickson, Conley, & Holmbeck, 2014; Orth et al., 2014; Orth et al., 2016; Steiger et al., 2014; van Tuijl, de Jong, Sportel, de Hullu, & Nauta, 2014; Zeigler-Hill, 2011). Nevertheless, it is stressed that the scar model has also received “a fair amount of support” (Zeigler-Hill, 2011, p. 159), for instance, in older studies.
Also, some sources conclude that low self-esteem might directly add to the risk of depression (Orth et al., 2016); the mechanism is explained, for example, by Zeigler-Hill (2011), who states that people with low self-esteem have weaker coping capabilities than those with high self-esteem. On the contrary, other sources conclude that the effect of self-esteem on depression is mediated by anxiety (Al Nima, Rosenberg, Archer, & Garcia, 2013) and rumination (Kuster, Orth, & Meier, 2012).
Creemers, Scholte, Engels, Prinstein, and Wiers (2012) suggest an even more complicated mechanism, according to which lower explicit self-esteem, as well as the size of the discrepancy between explicit and implicit self-esteem, are associated with stronger symptoms of depression; similar issues are considered by de Jong, Sportel, de Hullu, and Nauta (2012).
On the whole, therefore, even though it appears that problems with self-esteem are associated with depression (Orth & Robins, 2014; Orth, Robins, & Widaman, 2012; Steiger et al., 2014), it is not completely clear whether greater self-esteem can reduce depression once the latter is present. Thus, it is possible to propose a study investigating the impact of therapy specifically targeted at increasing self-esteem (and not treating depression) on the level of depression among individuals suffering from it.
The primary research question will be as follows: “Can an intervention purposefully targeted at increasing self-esteem and not aimed at lowering the levels of depression decrease the levels of depression among adult individuals suffering from mild to moderate depression?”
A sub-question that may also be addressed is: “Is the effect of self-esteem on depression mediated by anxiety?” (Al Nima et al., 2013).
Methodology and Basic Design Overview
The research problem should be studied using a quantitative method because this problem requires that a relationship between several constructs is investigated in its dynamics; these constructs can be measures using quantitative means. A qualitative study would be inappropriate because it could only textually describe the constructs, but not measure the strength of their presence in individuals, and not describe the relationship between these constructs.
The research design of the proposed study will be quasi-experimental because it is expected that it will be possible to recruit participants and manipulate the independent variable (self-esteem) via an intervention; however, it is not clear whether it will be possible to randomly assign the participants to the treatment and control groups because some participants might want to undergo an intervention, whereas others may choose to refuse. This design is appropriate for answering the research question because it allows for assessing the impact of increasing self-esteem on the rates of depression and to examine the relationship between these two notions (depression and self-esteem) in its dynamics.
Participants with low self-esteem and with mild to moderate depression will be recruited and assigned to the experimental or control groups. The data about their self-esteem, depression, and anxiety will be collected before the intervention and after it. The data will be statistically analyzed using an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) to test whether there was a statistically significant difference between the levels of depression before and after the treatment while statistically controlling for the effects of self-esteem before and after the intervention.
To find out if anxiety mediates the relationship between self-esteem and depression, it is possible to carry out several regression analyses testing such a relationship.
Can purposefully increasing self-esteem lower the levels of depression?
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