Depression and Anxiety Disorders Possess Shared Vulnerabilities in Couples

Depression and anxiety disorders possess shared vulnerabilities in couples

Depression and anxiety disorder risks in couples

Depression and anxiety disorders are associated with various risk factors, including history of childhood abuse, poor social support and conflict in the family. However, the shared risk of family members and couples living together for these mental health conditions are largely unexplored. This is despite research consistently showing associations between individuals in the family and couples in a wide range of physical health conditions including lung cancer, diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease and musculoskeletal health.

The study

Research psychologists from the United Kingdom analyzed the medical records of 13,507 couples (equating to 27,014 individuals) in order to establish whether shared risk for depression and anxiety exists within couples. The researchers collected the patient data across a 12-month period from 13 general practitioner (GP) clinics in the UK. Patients who have sought consultation for depression (e.g. depressive disorders and dysthymia) and anxiety disorders (e.g. panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorders) were identified from the records.

The search yielded 538 individual patients who were seeking treatment for depression, and another 927 individuals who were seeking treatment for anxiety. The researchers then analyzed how many individuals who had depression also had their partner seeking help for depression thereafter, in the 12-month period. The similar data was analyzed for patients who had sought help for anxiety disorder.

Higher risks of depression and anxiety if partner has the mental health condition

The results indicated that individuals are almost three times more likely (odds ratio of 2.98) to seek help for anxiety if they have a partner who had sought treatment for an anxiety disorder. On the other hand, those who had partners who sought treatment for depression were over four times more likely (odds ratio of 4.45) to seek help for depression, compared to those whose partner had not consulted for depression.

These results indicate the presence of shared vulnerabilities in the development of depression and anxiety disorders between couples. The researchers highlighted various possibilities for these shared risks. The couple may have shared similar stressful life events in the past twelve months (e.g. death in the family) that contributed to the shared risk. Another factor that needs to be considered is the level of relationship quality and the possibility of conflict in the relationship. Although further studies are needed to quantify these hypotheses, the results of this study are significant as the presence of a loved one to provide support and express understanding about the condition is important in the recovery of an individual suffering from depression or anxiety. Having a partner, who is also affected by a mental health issue may impeded the recovery of the individual.

Assessing depression and anxiety in partners; Exploring couple and family therapy

The findings also possess clinical applications for mental health professionals, including psychologists and counsellors, to be aware of the likelihood of depression and anxiety in the partner. This is to enable early intervention for the partner, if necessary. In addition, the study also provides support for partner or family level consultations in treatment. This may include couple therapy or systemic family therapy by a psychologist

Muhammad Haikal Bin Jamil

About the Author

Haikal received his Master degree at the National University of Singapore (NUS), under a full scholarship awarded by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS). Before entering private practice, he has gained much experience in both hospital and social services settings.

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