For all other participants including those who had a history of depression but hadn't divorced, and those who divorced but had no history of depression there was no elevated risk for a future depressive episode. Only about 10% of these people experienced a depressive episode at follow-up.
The magnitude of the difference between the two groups 60% versus 10% surprised the researchers.
"These findings are very important because they affirm the basic notion that most people are resilient in the face of divorce and that we do not see severe disorder among people without a history of a past depressive illness," says Sbarra. "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."
The findings suggest that separation and divorce may exacerbate underlying risk but don't, in and of themselves, increase rates of depression. It's possible, the researchers speculate, that people with a history of depression have a limited capacity to cope with the demands of the transition out of marriage, but they caution that the specific mechanisms have yet to be explored.
"Do these people blame themselves for the divorce? Do they ruminate more about the separation? Are they involved in a particularly acrimonious separation? These questions deserve much greater attention," says Sbarra.
Sbarra and colleagues also note that the research can't speak to potentially interesting differences between those adults who separate versus those who divorce, since the two categories were combined in the study.
Nonetheless, the researchers believe the new findings have significant clinical implications:
"It is very important for clinicians to know that a person's history of depression is directly related to whether or not they will experience a depressive episode following the end of marriage," says S
|Contact: Anna Mikulak|
Association for Psychological Science