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Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Effects of Marital Failure Worse Than Diabetes


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


Researchers looking for indications that physical illness causes depression may unintentionally end up discovering that marital failure is a more likely cause. Such was the experience of medical researchers at Vanderbilt and the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. Intending to investigate the relationship between diabetes and depression, the Vanderbilt and North Carolina scholars concluded their research with the discovery that “patients with diabetes had little or no increased risk of a new diagnosis of depression relative to patients without diabetes after controlling for the number of outpatient visits.”

However, the researchers did identify a number of demographic characteristics that were “more strongly associated with the presence and severity of depressive symptoms than a diabetes diagnosis.” One demographic predictor of depression turned out to be marital status: compared to peers in an intact marriage, both the divorced and the single were significantly more likely to suffer from depression (p<0.001 for both comparisons). In contrast, the elevated risk of depression found among the widowed fell below the threshold of statistical significance.

(Chandra Y. Osborn et al., “Diabetes and Co-morbid Depression among Racially Diverse, Low-income Adults,” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 41.3 [June 2011]: 300–309.)

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