Depression Worsens Over Time for High-Risk Women

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Health System have released the latest developments of their ongoing longitudinal study on women in their 30s and early 40s who are considered to be at high-risk for alcohol abuse, antisocial behavior, and depression.

According to the research team, led by Anne Buu, PhD, women in such situations as living in unstable neighborhoods, having histories of mental illness, drug abuse, or violence, and dealing with stressful home lives experience declines in their alcohol abuse and antisocial behavior problems as they age, but their depression progressively worsens.

As part of their Michigan Longitudinal Study, the research team examined a sample group of 273 adult women and their families considered at high-risk from a Midwestern four-county area over a period of 12 years beginning in the early years of their marriage and motherhood. Researchers assessed the women’s psychological history, their husbands’ and children’s symptomatology, anxiety related to family life, their social support systems, and their neighborhood environments to determine what impact these factors had on the women’s alcohol-related problems, antisocial behavior, and depression.

Among the findings, researchers discovered that women’s alcohol problems and antisocial behavior decreased over time, but their depression increased. Women’s history of disordered mental health and their husbands’ similar symptomatology (such as legal trouble and addiction) were associated with the women’s disordered symptoms. Women’s history of alcoholism as well as their husbands’ alcohol-related problems significantly increased the women’s risk for antisocial behavior.

In terms of their children, women’s antisocial behavior and alcohol-related problems were directly associated with their children’s externalizing behavior (acting out, delinquency), while the women’s depression was directly associated with their children’s internalizing behavior (isolation, withdrawal, depression). Living in unstable neighborhoods, where residents move in and out frequently, was related to a higher rate of alcohol-related problems and depressive symptoms in the women. On the other hand, women with access to a support system showed lower levels of depression.

According to the researchers, the study’s findings prove that such mental health conditions as alcoholism, antisocial behavior, and depression among women are not either genetically related or environmentally influenced—but rather a complex combination of biological, social, and community factors. Also, these factors seem to influence the level of the conditions over time. While women in high-risk populations experienced decreased levels of alcohol-related problems and antisocial behavior as they aged, the women’s level of depression did not improve, but rather, worsened. What makes depression stand apart from the other two disorders is that depression is more strongly influenced by different biological factors in the long term, explain the researchers.

Because higher levels of social support were related to lower levels of depression among the women in the study, the researchers assert that intervention efforts to reach young women in high-risk situations would be most effective in preventing ongoing and future mental health deficits. Providing high-risk young mothers with such resources as counseling, educational and professional training, and neighborhood relationships could help harness their social support systems and decrease their symptoms of depression and related conditions.

The researcher’s latest findings of the Michigan Longitudinal Study have been published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.

Source: Medical News Today, Depression Symptoms Increase Over Time For Addiction-Prone Women, February 21, 2011

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