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Early depression, anger may taint love life for decades

May 8, 2014
Courtesy of the the Uni­vers­ity of Al­ber­ta
and World Science staff

Re­search­ers are try­ing to crack the code to hap­pi­ness by ex­plor­ing the long reach of de­pres­sion and an­ger over a quar­ter cen­tury. 

A study fol­lowed 341 peo­ple for 25 years and found that neg­a­tive emo­tions they may have suf­fered as young adults can have a last­ing grip on their cou­ple rela­t­ion­ships, well in­to mid­dle age.

“We as­sume or hope that high school ex­pe­ri­ences fade away and don’t nec­es­sarily res­o­nate 25 years lat­er,” said study au­thor Mat­thew John­son of the Uni­vers­ity of Al­ber­ta. But “symp­toms of de­pres­sion and ex­pres­sions of an­ger can en­dure over many large events in life,” he went on, show­ing “how im­por­tant it is to deal with men­tal health ear­ly. Some­times, prob­lems don’t just dis­si­pate. How you grow and change over those early years be­comes cru­cial to fu­ture hap­pi­ness.”

De­pres­sion and an­ger clung to peo­ple even through ma­jor events such as child-rearing, mar­riage and ca­reers, ac­cord­ing to the stu­dy, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Family Psy­chol­o­gy. Drawn from a larg­er study be­gun in 1985, it sur­veyed 178 wom­en and 163 men through the tran­si­tion to adult­hood from age 18 to 25, again on their per­ceived stress lev­els at age 32, and on the qual­ity of their in­ti­mate rela­t­ion­ships at 43.

The find­ings point to the im­por­tance of rec­og­niz­ing that early men­tal health in­flu­ences rela­t­ion­ships and that in turn, can have so­cial costs lat­er, such as di­vorce and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, John­son wrote. Peo­ple can help them­selves by “rec­og­niz­ing the fact that where they are in their cou­ple rela­t­ion­ship now is likely shaped by ear­li­er chap­ters in their lives,” he said. “It’s not only your part­ner’s cur­rent be­hav­ior or your cur­rent be­hav­ior shap­ing your rela­t­ion­ship, but the sto­ry you br­ing with you.”


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Researchers are trying to crack the code to happiness by exploring the long reach of depression and anger over more than 20 years. A study followed 341 people for 25 years and found that negative emotions they may have suffered as young adults can have a lasting grip on their couple relationships, well into middle age. “We assume or hope that high school experiences fade away and don’t necessarily resonate 25 years later,” said study author Matthew Johnson of the University of Alberta. But “symptoms of depression and expressions of anger can endure over many large events in life,” he went on, showing “how important it is to deal with mental health early. Sometimes, problems don’t just dissipate. How you grow and change over those early years becomes crucial to future happiness.” Depression and anger clung to people even through major events such as child-rearing, marriage and careers, according to the study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Drawn from a larger study begun in 1985, it surveyed 178 women and 163 men through the transition to adulthood from age 18 to 25, again on their perceived stress levels at age 32, and on the quality of their intimate relationships at 43. The findings point to the importance of recognizing that early mental health influences relationships and that in turn, can have social costs later, such as divorce and domestic violence, Johnson wrote. People can help themselves by “recognizing the fact that where they are in their couple relationship now is likely shaped by earlier chapters in their lives,” he said. “It’s not only your partner’s current behavior or your current behavior shaping your relationship, but the story you bring with you.”