The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Thursday, April 14, 2016 (Volume 4: Issue: 13)

The Topic: Dealing with Depression

The News Story: Treating Anxiety, Depression Can Help Global Economy, Study Says

The New Research: Better than Therapy?

 

The News Story: Treating Anxiety, Depression Can Help Global Economy, Study Says

“For every U.S. dollar invested in treating depression and anxiety,” reports a recent CNN story, “there was a $4 return in better health and ability to work,” according to a new study led by the World Health Organization.

The study is the first of its kind to argue that there are serious economic incentives for nations to invest more in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health. According to WHO, “the number of people suffering from depression or anxiety, two of the most common mental disorders, increased by nearly 50%” between the years 1990 and 2013. This study finds that for every dollar spent on mental health, there was a four-dollar return in worker productivity. "We must now find ways to make sure that access to mental health services becomes a reality for all men, women and children, wherever they live," says WHO director-general Margaret Chan.

But other research suggests that “access to mental health services” may involve something more comprehensive than what one gets in the psychologist’s office.

(Source: Jareen Imam, “Treating Anxiety, Depression Can Help Global Economy, Study Says,” CNN, April 12, 2016.

 

The New Research: Better Than Therapy?

Researchers have understood for years that marriage improves mental health. A new study, however, finds that matrimony delivers substantive psychological benefits even to those who enter marriage under the cloud of depression.

Conducted by sociologists at the Ohio State University, this study clarifies the favorable psychological effects of marriage. The authors began their work fully aware of earlier research demonstrating that, “on average, the currently married report higher levels of psychological well-being (measured by lower rates of depression, substance abuse, and alcoholism) than never-married, divorced, widowed, or separated individuals.” The scholars were also cognizant of previous longitudinal studies establishing that “transitions into marriage are associated with declines in depression among women and declines in alcohol use and abuse among men.” Nonetheless, the researchers were not prepared for what they found.

To be sure, the overall pattern in the data—collected from a nationally representative sample between 1987 and 1994—confirmed the researchers’ expectations. For the sample as a whole, the researchers find that “those who experience the transition into marriage report better psychological well-being than their continually unmarried counterparts.” 

But the data dramatically contradicted the researchers’ initial hypothesis that “depressed individuals who transition[ed] to marriage w[ould] not report better psychological well-being after marrying than the depressed who remain[ed] continually unmarried.” This initial hypothesis reflected quite plausible reasoning: if the psychological benefits of a marriage depend upon the quality of that marriage, then a spouse who enters wedlock shrouded in depression will not realize those benefits because “the depression of that spouse can compromise the psychological benefits of marriage through a decrease in communication, [and] excessive emotional neediness.” When the researchers examine the data, they discover that—to their astonishment—“the previously depressed benefit more from marriage than the nondepressed even though their marital quality is slightly worse.”

How can it be that marriage offers even greater psychological advantages to depressed men and women than it does to their mentally healthy peers? The researchers try to explain their “surprising” finding by conjecturing that “marriage may give a depressed person the sense that he or she matters to a spouse and to new social ties, whereas someone who was not depressed prior to marrying may have always felt that he or she matters to others." 

The Ohio State researchers are careful to note that their data do not support “the assumption that marriage is always a good choice for all individuals.” However, this finding makes it all the more tragic that marriage rates have plummeted in recent decades.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, “New Research,” The Family in America 30.1 [Winter 2010]. Study: Adrianne Frech and Kristi Williams, “Depression and the Psychological Benefits of Entering Marriage,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 48 [2007]: 149–62, emphasis added.)