Among the most frustrating and keenly felt consequences for individuals who suffer from depression and anxiety are those that affect present and future relationships. At times when individuals need the most support, the interpersonal repercussions of mental health issues can severely negatively impact relationships and even lead to their end.
A recent study on depression and anxiety in early adulthood, published in Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, examines just this aspect of these prevalent and widespread mental health problems. The study takes advantage of longitudinal data from a sample of Australian adults aged 20-24 years, assessed at four year intervals for 12 years. Only individuals who were not married or in a long-term relationship at the onset were included in the present study.
The results demonstrate that depression, but not anxiety, was significantly associated with remaining single later in adulthood. In addition, for those who did find a long-term partner, anxiety and depression both significantly predicted relationship dissatisfaction and conflict. These results remained significant even after adjusting for a variety of socioeconomic factors.
“These findings add to the body of research demonstrating that depression and anxiety in early adulthood have important personal and social costs, not only for the individuals experiencing poor mental health, but also their partners,” the researchers said.
Importantly, correcting for later experiences of depression and anxiety did not erase the effects, which the authors take as meaning that “past experiences of depression and anxiety matter above and beyond the impact of concurrent mental health problems” (emphasis added).
This means that, while current mental health problems obviously impact relationships, preventative measures are equally important when it comes to ensuring happy, healthy partnerships for individuals later on in life.
The authors note several limitations, including the fact that their investigation does not include mediators or mechanisms by which depression and anxiety might impact relationships later on. Indeed, knowing the relation exists is only half the battle; developing therapeutic interventions will require understanding the specific behaviors and thought processes that undermine the development of strong and lasting relationships.
This will also help determine whether depression and anxiety relate causally and directly to the study’s findings of single relationship status, or whether there is some subjacent factor at work. The authors cite, for example, a negative predisposition or cognitive bias underlying both depression and anxiety, and later perceptions of relationship quality.
The support of loved ones is a powerful tool in combating depression and anxiety, and relationship studies have demonstrated the utility and affective value of a strong partnership. The fact that mental health issues actively undermine the very social systems that may help alleviate symptoms is thus a key piece of information, and bears further examination.
The study, “Depression and anxiety in early adulthood: consequences for finding a partner, and relationship support and conflict“, was authored by Liana S. Leach and Peter Butterworth.