What we found was that having either one or three or more children was associated with an increased risk of depression and for single parents having children was associated with an overall increased risk of depression. These findings highlight the complex relationship between family status and risk of lifetime depression.Julian Mutz, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London
26 November 2020
Research finds new associations between family status and risk of depression
Research from King’s College London gives new insights into how family status (living with a spouse or partner and number of children) is associated with different risks of lifetime depression.
Previous research has indicated that co-habiting with a spouse or partner is associated with reduced risk of depression, while findings have been inconsistent with respect to having children and risk of depression.
The researchers, led by Julian Mutz of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s, used a large dataset available through UK Biobank to investigate the relationship between family status and lifetime depression. The study included 52,078 middle-aged and older adults who completed a mental health questionnaire between 2016 and 2017. These questionnaires were linked to information on lifestyle, socioeconomic status and biological samples that the participants had consented to provide as part of the larger UK Biobank research.
These new findings, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, show that cohabitation with a partner or spouse was consistently associated with a 33 to 62% lower lifetime risk of depression – a conclusion that supports previous research in this area. However, the findings were more complex when it came to the relationship between having children and risk of depression. Specifically, having one child or three or more children was associated with an increased risk of depression ranging between 11 and 27%, compared to having no children. Interestingly, there was no evidence that having two children was associated with an increased risk of depression. For individuals not living with a spouse or partner, having children was associated with an overall increased risk of depression.
The researchers reported that these findings were consistent across age groups, the sexes, socioeconomic backgrounds and genetic predisposition for depression. However, these findings are observational and a causal relationship between family status and risk of depression cannot be proven.
He added, ‘To our knowledge this is the first study to provide evidence of an association between family status and depression risk in a large population-based study, while controlling for both non-genetic and genetic confounding factors.’
Study first author Alexandros Giannelis said ‘Living without a spouse or partner emerges as one of the strongest predictors of depression in our sample of later-life adults, even after adjusting for multiple other factors. This highlights the importance of partnership as a source of support, that is equally beneficial in both sexes and across socioeconomic backgrounds.’
The authors note that they were unable to distinguish between marital statuses of couples in this study, although other research suggests that there are differences in depression risk between married and unmarried cohabiting individuals.
Julian Mutz added ‘It’s clear that the relationship between having children and depression risk is more complex and less consistent than cohabitation status. At a time when single parenthood is common, it is concerning that single parents appear to face a greater mental health burden. Our findings highlight their need for increased support.’
The authors received funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC), and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.
These findings are published in the paper “Examining the association between family status and depression in the UK Biobank” in Journal of Affective Disorder and can be found here.
For interviews or any further media information please contact Louise Pratt, Head of Communications, IoPPN: firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 7850 919020