The Depressive Life Experiences Scale (DLES)


 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.

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.


the Depressive Life Experiences Scale (DLES)


The Depressive Life Experiences Scale is a self-administered questionnaire that allows respondents to indicate those depressive life experiences which they have recently experienced. The items on the DLES were selected on the basis of the results reported by Snell et al. (1989). These investigators had subjects discuss the types of events, experiences, hassles, and problems that depress them. Forty-eight experiences were discussed with sufficient frequency to warrant including them on a scale measuring depressive life experiences. In the Snell et al. (1989) investigation, three conceptual dimensions were found to characterize the 48 depressive experiences: (1) an

interpersonal versus personal conflict dimension, (2) a social inactivity versus social friction dimension, and (3) a personal versus impersonal dimension. The DLES subscales used in the present investigation were derived from the quadrants which result when the three dimensions are crossed with each other (i.e., 2 X 2 X 2 = 8 possible subscales). Since two of the quadrants were not represented with depressive life experience items, six rather than eight subscales were included in

the current version of the Depressive Life Experiences Scale. These six subscales assessed the following distinct categories of depressogenic experiences: (1) the social exits scale, with 5 items (e.g., SEPARATION: being separated from friends or loved ones), (2) the interpersonal disharmony scale, with 6 items (e.g., CRITICISM: a critical judgment from a person; someone finding fault with you or disapproving of you), (3) the personal inertia subscale, with 7 items (e.g., BOREDOM: being in a dull or uninteresting situation; experiencing a state of ennui), (4) the personal frustrations scale, with 5 items (e.g., LACK OF PREPARATION: being inadequately prepared or having made inadequate plans), (5) the personal inadequacies scale, with 6 items (e.g., LOSS OF FACE: committing some blunder or error, with attending loss of face), and (6) the others' misfortunes scale, with 6 items (e.g., DEPRESSED PEOPLE: being exposed to sad and unhappy people; being around people feeling depressed). Items not assigned to specific scales were regarded as filler items. The subjects were asked to rate how frequently they had experienced the 48 depressive life experiences on the DLES during three time periods: the past three months, the past year, and the past five years.

A 5-point Likert scale with appropriate anchors was used to record their responses (blank = not at all; 1 = one time; 2 = two times; 3 = three times; 4 = four times; 5 = five or more times). After providing this "frequency of occurrence" information, the subjects were then asked to indicate the depressive intensity of the 48 depressive experiences at the time of their occurrence. These ratings were made on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from extremely depressing (1) to not at all depressing (5), later reversed-scored so that higher numbers corresponded to more intense depressive affect (i.e., depressive intensity). The frequency ratings for the items on each subscale were summed to create six (6) separate frequency measures. In addition, the depressive intensity ratings for the items on each subscale were summed to create six (6) separate intensity measures.

The resulting frequency and intensity measures associated with each of the six subscales were also multiplied together to create an overall "impact score" for each of the six subscales (i.e., frequency scores X intensity scores = impact scores ). In summary, each of the six DLES subscales was scored so as to create a frequency, an intensity, and an impact score. Higher scores on these measures corresponded to (1) greater frequency of the depressive experiences, (2) more intense depressive distress, and (3) a more severe overall impact, respectively.


The Depressive Life Experiences Scale (DLES) Scoring Instructions

The Depressive Life Experiences Scale (DLES) consists of six subscales (the items are listed below). The article by Snell, Hawkins, and Belk (1990) describes on page 607 how to derive scores for the DLES. Three types of scores may be computed for each subscale: (a) "frequency" scores, (b) "depressive intensity" scores, and (c) overall "impact" scores. The "frequency" scores are computed by summing the "frequency" responses of the items assigned to each respective subscale. The "depressive intensity" scores are computed by summing the "depressive intensity" responses of the items assigned to each respective subscale (subscale items are first recoded). The "depressive impact" score for each subscale is computed by first multiplying the "frequency" score (i.e., how often the event occurred) by the "depressive intensity" score (i.e., "not at all depressed" to "extremely depressed") for each item on a subscale and then summing these resulting products.

  1. The Social Exit Subscale: 3, 4, 14, 15, 17, and 30.
  2. The Interpersonal Disharmony Subscale: 1, 7, 9, 11, 12, and
  3. The Personal Inertia Subscale: 13, 29, 36, 37, 40, 43, and 47.
  4. The Personal Frustrations Subscale: 20, 27, 34, 35, and
  5. The Personal Inadequacies Subscale: 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, and
  6. The Others’ Misfortunes Subscale: 31, 32, 38, 39, 41, and