Depression and Derailment: A Cyclical Model of Mental Illness and Perceived Identity Change

Kaylin Ratner, Jane Mendle, Anthony L. Burrow, Felix Thoemmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated reciprocity between depressive symptoms and a novel construct called derailment, which indexes perceived changes in identity and self-direction. People who are “derailed” have trouble reconciling how their life course has unfolded over time and, as a result, do not easily identify with their former self. College students (N = 939) participated in a preregistered, four-wave longitudinal study over one academic year. Depression positively predicted subsequent derailment across all components of the model, suggesting that perceived disruptions in life course may occur in response to elevated depressive symptoms. Contrary to predictions, derailment negatively predicted later depression across most waves, indicating that felt changes in identity and self-direction could buffer against downstream mood deteriorations. Although our findings did not support reciprocity, prospective evidence that perceived instability of identity and self-direction relate to an increase in depressive symptoms positions derailment as a new and potentially important facet of the depressive phenotype.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)735-753
Number of pages19
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • depression
  • identity
  • latent growth modeling
  • preregistered
  • self-direction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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