Divorce Increases Risk Of Depression In Some; Who Is Most Likely To Have A Depressive Episode?

Couple saying goodbye
A divorce is found to significantly increase the likelihood of depression in some people. Ciprian Silviu Ionescu

Married couples who fight day after day, week after week, and month after month eventually realize the inevitable doom of their relationship, leading to divorce. The divorce rate in America for a first marriage is 50 percent, 67 percent for a second marriage, and 74 percent for a third marriage, according to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Missouri. Factors that make married couples susceptible to divorce include young age, low education level, and low income. While half of all divorces have been found to come from low-conflict relationships, the level of commitment plays a role in the likelihood that a married couple will get divorced. Couples who have a long-term view of marriage are more likely to not be overwhelmed by the problems and day-to-day challenges they may face, shared Dr. Scott Stanley, marriage researcher and therapist at the University of Denver. When there appears to be no cure to a failed marriage, getting a divorce may seem like the best option for both partners in the relationship. Going through a divorce, however, can be a tough time for many and increase the likelihood of a depressive episode in already depressed individuals, according to a recent study.

Findings published in Clinical Psychological Science showed that divorce was linked to a 60 percent risk of future depressive episodes in sufferers of the disorder. Researchers from the University of Arizona examined data from the longitudinal, nationally representative Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) study and matched each participant who was separated or divorced from his or her partner during the study to a continuously married person who had the same odds for divorce (based on predetermined factors that can lead to a divorce).

The results of the study showed a positive correlation between divorce and depression — in some people. A separation or divorce increased the risk of a future depressive episode in participants who reported a history of depression, with 60 percent of these adults experiencing a depressive episode during the study's follow-up. However, participants who were clinically depressed but not divorced had no risk for a future depressive episode. Those who divorced and had no history of depression were also found to not be at any risk for the condition.

"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,” said David Sbarra, lead author of the study and psychological scientist at the University of Arizona. The researchers were surprised at the results, noting that divorce does not leave people predisposed to developing depression, unless they were previously diagnosed with the disorder.

Participants who experienced depressive episodes post-divorce were speculated to have limited ability to adapt to a new lifestyle, possibly blaming themselves for the divorce or dwelling on the reason behind the decision. The researchers concluded that further research needs to be done.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 121 million people worldwide suffer from depression and less than 25 percent have access to treatment for the disorder. The researchers in the study believe their findings can help clinicians better evaluate how a divorce can potentially affect a patient's depression.

"People with a history of depression who become divorced deserve special attention for support and counseling services,” said Sbarra.

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