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The online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1649-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Life events (LEs) are associated with future physical and mental health. They are crucial for understanding the pathways to mental disorders as well as the interactions with biological parameters. However, deeper insight is needed into the complex interplay between the type of LE, its subjective evaluation and accompanying factors such as social support. The “Stralsund Life Event List” (SEL) was developed to facilitate this research.
The SEL is a standardized interview that assesses the time of occurrence and frequency of 81 LEs, their subjective emotional valence, the perceived social support during the LE experience and the impact of past LEs on present life. Data from 2265 subjects from the general population-based cohort study “Study of Health in Pomerania” (SHIP) were analysed. Based on the mean emotional valence ratings of the whole sample, LEs were categorized as “positive” or “negative”. For verification, the SEL was related to lifetime major depressive disorder (MDD; Munich Composite International Diagnostic Interview), childhood trauma (Childhood Trauma Questionnaire), resilience (Resilience Scale) and subjective health (SF-12 Health Survey).
The report of lifetime MDD was associated with more negative emotional valence ratings of negative LEs (OR = 2.96, p < 0.0001). Negative LEs (b = 0.071, p < 0.0001, β = 0.25) and more negative emotional valence ratings of positive LEs (b = 3.74, p < 0.0001, β = 0.11) were positively associated with childhood trauma. In contrast, more positive emotional valence ratings of positive LEs were associated with higher resilience (b = − 7.05, p < 0.0001, β = 0.13), and a lower present impact of past negative LEs was associated with better subjective health (b = 2.79, p = 0.001, β = 0.05). The internal consistency of the generated scores varied considerably, but the mean value was acceptable (averaged Cronbach’s alpha > 0.75).
The SEL is a valid instrument that enables the analysis of the number and frequency of LEs, their emotional valence, perceived social support and current impact on life on a global score and on an individual item level. Thus, we can recommend its use in research settings that require the assessment and analysis of the relationship between the occurrence and subjective evaluation of LEs as well as the complex balance between distressing and stabilizing life experiences.