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Relationships Influence Risk of Depression

One may not be the loneliest number after all. Individuals in an unhealthy relationship may be better off single, according to recent study from the University of Michigan. The study, which examined data collected from almost 5000 American adults, looked at the connection between the quality of relationships and the future development of depression. The research indicates that those with stressed or problematic spouses were more likely to develop a major depressive disorder. Conversely, bachelors and bachelorettes were not at any increased risk for depression down the road. In fact, subjects with the lowest quality relationships were over two times as likely to experience depression, when compared with those in healthy relationship who were at no increased risk.

Anyone who has endured or is enduring an extremely dysfunctional or unstable relationship knows it can be debilitating on your psyche, and your life as a whole. At some point, you likely realized that you would be better off single, and may or may not have acted on it. Thus, the results may not seem particularly surprising; however, experts say this study is the first to examine this issue over a large, diverse test group.

The UM study, which appears in the online journal PLOS ONE, also collected data over a relatively long time-span of 10 years and has provided tangible data that is currently some of the most trustworthy on the subject thus far. Alan Teo, M.D., M.S., is a psychiatrist and one of the lead authors on the study and asserts, “This is the first time that a study had identified this link in the general population.”

According to Teo, “Our study shows that the quality of social relationships is a significant risk factor for major depression.” Additionally, researchers were able to pinpoint certain positive and negative aspects of relationships that were indicators for later depression through their assessment of the data. Specifically, UM researchers found that, mostly in spousal relationships though in some cases family systems, social strain and lack of support were significant factors that influenced later formation of a major depressive disorder.

“These results tell us that health care providers need to remember that patients’ relationships with their loved ones play a central role in their medical care,” says Teo. Family, spousal, and even relationships with friends can be complex and dynamic, and can not only have a great impact on a patient’s mental health but also interfere with their psychiatric treatment. Teo suggests that an increased use of couple’s therapy would be beneficial, for both treatment and preemptively.

In subjects with the lowest-quality relationships, the data indicates that one in seven adults will develop depression. On the other hand, of those with the highest-quality relationships, only one in 15 will develop the disorder. The scale and duration of the study make it comparable to similar studies such as the well-known correlation of biological risk factors and cardiovascular disease, says Teo.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the research did not demonstrate any correlation between the frequency of social interactions and the pervasiveness of depression. One would expect that isolation and limited social exposure would surely lead to loneliness, withdrawal, and hence a depressive disorder. However, participants in the study who isolated from family and friends were not at any greater risk for depression in the future. Teo proposes that this should be taken into account when treating those with mental illnesses.

The University of Michigan study is a key breakthrough, providing invaluable data in the mental health sphere that will shift the perception on relationships and major depressive disorder. Hopefully, like Alan Teo has proposed, greater importance will be placed on group and couples therapy to treat unhealthy relationships before individuals develop depressive symptoms. “What that means is that if we can teach people how to improve the quality of their relationships we may be able to prevent or reduce the devastating effects of clinical depression.”

Almost 16 percent of Americans suffer from a major depressive disorder at least once in their lives, according to various physicians and mental health experts. The disorder can also increase the risk or exacerbate other illnesses, like coronary heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Major depressive disorder, often just called ‘depression’, is a mental disorder that consists of persistent feeling of gloom and low moods, and if not treated can lead to suicide. Thus new, reliable data is very beneficial to treatment efforts and awareness.

If you or anyone you know may be suffering from depression, please get help from a professional as soon as possible.


Works Cited

Nauert, Rick. “Being Single, Quality of Relationship Influences Depression Risk.” Psych Central News. Psych Central, 2 May 2013. Web. 2 May 2013 <http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/05/02/being-single-quality-of-relationship-influences-depression-risk/54375.html>.


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A staff writer here at T4A, Roscoe enjoys investigating and writing on a variety of topics concerning addiction and mental health. His articles cover everything from the latest news stories to his own experiences with addiction and/or mental illness. He is a recovering alcoholic from New York, NY who is grateful not only to be sober, but also to have a life back. His interests include reading, writing, running, and anything involving the outdoors. Now that he is sober, he hopes to graduate college in the next few years with a degree in Business. He strives daily maintain a positive attitude and to work on himself; to make up for all of his past wrongdoings, and to give back by helping those who are struggling. Roscoe cherishes the opportunity to share his thoughts and ideas through the T4A blog, and welcomes any sort of feedback from readers!

Filed under: Conditions and Disorders, Love and Relationships · Tags: couple's therapy, depression, major depressive disorder, mental health, PLoS One

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