The Depressive Life Experiences Scale (DLES)


Author of Tool: 

Snell, W. E., Jr., Belk, S. S., & Hawkins, R. C. II

Key references: 

Snell, W. E., Jr., Belk, S. S., & Hawkins, R. C. II (1986).  Development of the Depressive Life Experiences Scale (DLES):  Assessing the stressful and distressful aspects of depression.  Social and Behavioral Sciences Documents, 16, 16.

Snell, W. E., Jr., Hawkins, R. C. II, & Belk, S. S. (1990). Measuring depressive life experiences. Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, 11, 605-613.

Primary use / Purpose: 

A measure of depressive life experiences.


 During recent years psychologists have begun to investigate the variety of stressful life events that trigger distress. The Depressive Life Experiences Scale (DLES) is an objective self-report instrument designed to assess six depressogenic life experiences: (1) social exits, (2) interpersonal disharmony, (3) personal inertia, (4) personal frustrations, (5) personal inadequacies, and (6) others’ misfortunes. The Depressive Life Experiences Scale was designed to assess the depressive life experiences found in a study by Snell, McDonald, and Koch (1989). Snell et al. (1989) asked people to discuss the types of life experiences which trigger their feelings of depression. The content analysis results from that study were used to construct six DLES subscales in the present investigation. The first scale was labeled the social exits subscale, since it was designed to measure those experiences associated with the breakup, cessation, and absence of interpersonal relationships (e.g., the ending of an intimate, love relationship). The second subscale on the DLES, the interpersonal disharmony scale, was designed to measure those life experiences dealing with social conflict, disharmony, and friction (e.g., a critical judgment from another person). Whereas the above two scales concerned social inactivity and friction, the third scale was concerned with life experiences indicating personal inertia. More specifically, the items on this subscale were intended to measure depressive stress stemming from individual inactivity and inertia (e.g., being in a dull or uninteresting situation). The fourth subscale on the Depressive Life Experiences Scale was labeled the personal frustration scale. The items on this depressive stress subscale were selected because they had the common feature of demands, delay, and frustrations concerning one’s goal-directed activities (e.g., frustrated goals or desires). In contrast, the fifth scale was designed to measure those life experiences which deal with individual failures and personal resignation. One of the exemplary items on the personal inadequacy subscale read, “inadequate or stifled personal development; lack of personal fulfillment.” The sixth and final subscale on the Depressive Life Experiences Scale deals with others’ misfortunes. The common theme among the items on this subscale involves being exposed to the misfortunes, ill-luck, and unpleasant events that befall other individuals (e.g., others’ suffering and misfortunes).


Reliability analyses provided evidence for the internal consistency of the items on the six DLES subscales, and other results revealed a gender distinct pattern of findings for several DLES subscales. In addition, five of the DLES subscales correlated positively with a measure of “negative” life change, and predictive validity was demonstrated through a pattern of negative correlations between the DLES and several indices of life satisfaction.



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