Divorce is associated with an increased risk of future depressive episodes but only for those who already have a history of depression, according to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
“Stressful life events like divorce are associated with significant risk for prolonged emotional distress, including clinically-significant depression,” notes psychological scientist and lead researcher David Sbarra of the University of Arizona. “At the same time, we know from considerable research that the experience of divorce is non-random. Some people are much greater risk for experiencing a divorce than other people.”
This led Sbarra and colleagues to wonder: Is it divorce, or the factors leading to divorce – such as marital discord, neuroticism, or hostility – that increase the risk for depression?
To investigate this question, the researchers took advantage of data from the longitudinal, nationally representative Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) study. The researchers matched each participant who had separated or divorced during the study to a continuously married person in the study who had the same propensity to divorce, based on a number of previously identified factors. By comparing participants to their match, the researchers were able to account for the fact that it’s impossible to randomly assign people to divorce or stay married.
In line with previous research, the results showed that divorce had a significant effect on subsequent depression.
But, as Sbarra and colleagues found, the full story was a bit more complex.
Specifically, divorce or separation only increased the likelihood of a later depressive episode for those participants who reported a history of depression. In fact, nearly 60% of adults with a history of depression who divorced during the study experienced a depressive episode at the follow-up assessment.
For all other participants – including those who had a history of depression but hadn’t divorced, and those who divorced but had no history of depression – there was no elevated risk for a future depressive episode. Only about 10% of these people experienced a depressive episode at follow-up.
The magnitude of the difference between the two groups – 60% versus 10% – surprised the researchers.
“These findings are very important because they affirm the basic notion that most people are resilient in the face of divorce and that we do not see severe disorder among people without a history of a past depressive illness,” says Sbarra. “If you’ve never experienced a significant depression in your life and you experience a separation or divorce, your odds for becoming depressed in the future are not that large at all.”
The findings suggest that separation and divorce may exacerbate underlying risk but don’t, in and of themselves, increase rates of depression. It’s possible, the researchers speculate, that people with a history of depression have a limited capacity to cope with the demands of the transition out of marriage, but they caution that the specific mechanisms have yet to be explored.
“Do these people blame themselves for the divorce? Do they ruminate more about the separation? Are they involved in a particularly acrimonious separation? These questions deserve much greater attention,” says Sbarra.
Sbarra and colleagues also note that the research can’t speak to potentially interesting differences between those adults who separate versus those who divorce, since the two categories were combined in the study.
Nonetheless, the researchers believe the new findings have significant clinical implications:
“It is very important for clinicians to know that a person’s history of depression is directly related to whether or not they will experience a depressive episode following the end of marriage,” says Sbarra. “People with a history of depression who become divorced deserve special attention for support and counseling services.”
For more information about this study, please contact: David A. Sbarra at email@example.com.
The abstract for this article can be found online at: http://cpx.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/13/2167702613498727.abstract
Co-authors include Robert E. Emery, Christopher R. Beam, and Bailey L. Ocker of the University of Virginia.
D. A. Sbarra was supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation (BCS 0919525), the National Institute on Aging (036895), and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (069498). C. R. Beam was supported by the National Institute on Aging (Award T32AG020500).
Clinical Psychological Science is APS’s newest journal. For a copy of the article “Marital Dissolution and Major Depression in Midlife: A Propensity Score Analysis” and access to other Clinical Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been there for a while, but I have recently updated parts of it and added a few video’s.
I speak of the section entitled Autism. I implore you to please take some time to read through it.
Christmas can be a stressful time
The expense of buying gifts, the pressure of last minute shopping and the heightened expectations of family togetherness can all combine to undermine our best intentions. Some practical suggestions can help you reduce your ‘Christmas stress’
Budgeting for Christmas
For all of us, the Christmas aftermath includes massive credit card bills that can take months to clear, unless you had the fortune to bag the £131,000,000 Euromillions prize. But, Christmas doesn’t have to be a financial headache if you plan ahead. Stress reduction strategies include:
- Work out a rough budget of expected Christmas costs as early as possible. This includes ‘hidden’ expenses such as food bills and overseas telephone charges.
- Calculate how much disposable income you have between now and Christmas. A certain percentage of this can be dedicated each week (or fortnight or month) to covering your expected Christmas costs. Don’t be discouraged if the amount seems small. If you save £5, £10, or £20 per week over a year, it can provide you with a decent nest egg.
- If your nest egg isn’t enough to cover your estimated expenses, consider recalculating your Christmas budget to a more realistic amount.
- If you have trouble keeping your hands off your Christmas nest egg, consider opening an account with a Christmas Saver type club.
If you have a large circle of extended family or friends to buy gifts for, it can be very costly. You might be able to reduce the stress and cost of Christmas for everyone if you suggest a change in the way your family and friends give presents. For example, you could suggest that your group:
- Buy presents only for the children.
- Have a Secret Santa, where everyone draws a name out of a hat and buys a present only for that person.
- Set a limit on the cost of presents for each person.
Stress reduction strategies for successful Christmas shopping include:
- Make a list of all the gifts you wish to buy before you go shopping. If you wait for inspiration to strike, you could be wandering aimlessly around the shopping centre for hours. Perhaps you could get to know the interests of family and friends to help you when choosing gifts (remember money is also a great gift as it allows people to choose what they want).
- Cross people off the list as you buy to avoid any duplication – easily done!
- Buy a few extras, such as chocolates, just in case you forget somebody or you have unexpected guests bearing gifts.
- If possible, do your Christmas shopping early – in the first week of December or even in November. Some well-organised people do their Christmas shopping gradually over the course of the year, starting with the post-Christmas sales.
- Buy your gifts by mail catalogue or over the Internet. Some companies will also gift-wrap and post your presents for a small additional fee.
The Christmas lunch (or dinner)
Preparing a meal for family and friends can be enjoyable but tiring and stressful at the same time.
Some tips to reduce the stress of Christmas cooking include:
- If you are cooking lunch at home, delegate tasks. You don’t need to do everything yourself.
- Consider keeping it simple – for instance, you could always arrange for a ‘buffet’ lunch, where everybody brings a platter.
- Make a list of food and ingredients needed. Buy as many non-perishable food items as you can in advance – supermarkets on Christmas Eve are generally extremely busy.
- Write a Christmas Day timetable. For example, 11.30am – put turkey in the oven.
- You may need to order particular food items (such as turkeys) from your supermarket by a certain date. Check to avoid disappointment.
- Consider doing your food shopping online. The store will deliver your groceries to your door. (Keep in mind this option is more expensive than visiting the supermarket yourself.)
- Book well in advance if you plan to have lunch at a restaurant. Some restaurants may be fully booked for months before Christmas, so don’t wait till the last minute.
Stress, anxiety, and depression are common during the festive season. If nothing else, reassure yourself that these feelings are normal. Stress reduction strategies include:
- Don’t expect miracles. If you and certain family members fight all year long, you can be sure there’ll be tension at Christmas gatherings.
- Avoid known triggers. For example, if politics is a touchy subject in your family, don’t talk about it. If someone brings up the topic, use distraction and quickly move on to something else to talk about.
- Use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or focusing on your breath to cope with anxiety or tension.
- Family members involved in after-lunch activities (such as cricket on the back lawn) are less likely to get into arguments. Plan for something to do as a group after lunch if necessary.
- People under stress tend to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs. Try to remember that drugs can’t solve problems or alleviate stress in the long term.
The little extras
Other ways you might be able to reduce the stress include:
- Write up a Christmas card list and keep it in a safe place so that you can refer to it (and add or delete names) year after year.
- Plan to write your Christmas cards in early December. Book a date in your diary so you don’t forget.
- Christmas cards with ‘Card only’ marked on the envelope can be posted at a reduced rate during November and December.
- Overseas mail at Christmas time takes longer to arrive. Arrange to send cards or presents in the first half of December to avoid disappointments (and long queues at the post office).
- For great savings, buy Christmas necessities (such as cards, wrapping paper, ribbons and decorations) at post-Christmas sales.
General health and wellbeing
Some other ways to keep your stress levels down include:
- Moderation – it may be the season to be jolly, but too much food and alcohol is harmful. Drink driving is a real danger, unacceptable, and illegal. If you can’t (or don’t want to) step off the social merry-go-round, at least try to eat and drink in moderation.
- Sleep – plan for as many early nights as you can.
- Fitness – keeping up your regular exercise routine can give you the fitness and stamina to make it through the demands of the festive season.
Where to get help
- Your Family
- Your GP
- Financial planner
- Your local community health centre
Things to remember
- Save a percentage of your disposable income throughout the year to provide a nest egg for Christmas expenses.
- Make a list of all the gifts and food you wish to buy and shop early.
- Don’t expect miracles – if you and certain family members bicker all year long, you can be sure there’ll be tension at Christmas gatherings.