With apologies to about 10,000 stand-up comedians,
marriage may be the cure for depression, rather
than the cause of it.
In fact, researchers say, people who experience
depression before they get married are the most
likely to get emotional health benefits from
Using a depression scale whose scores ranged
from zero to 84, the researchers found that
the scores of depressed people went down by
almost 8 points after marriage, while those
who weren't depressed had just under a 2-point
drop after marriage.
Even the study authors were surprised by their
findings. "We thought people who were depressed
would be less likely to benefit from marriage
than others," said study co-author Kristi
Williams, an assistant professor of sociology
at Ohio State University in Columbus. "We
thought depression would put a strain on the
Williams and her co-author, Adrianne Frech,
a doctoral student at Ohio State, presented
the results of their study Aug. 13 at the annual
meeting of the American Sociological Association,
This research comes on the heels of another
study that found that people who never marry
had a greater chance of dying early than people
who were married. In fact, people who'd never
married had an even higher risk of early death
than people who were divorced, separated or
widowed, suggesting that marriage confers some
sort of health benefit, even if it doesn't work
Using data from the National Survey of Families
and Households, the Ohio State researchers gathered
information on more than 3,000 people who were
single at the start of the study in 1987-88.
The survey participants were interviewed again
sometime between 1992 and 1994.
To assess whether or not people were depressed,
they were asked 12 questions, such as how many
days in the past week they "felt like they
could not shake off the blues, "felt lonely,"
or "slept restlessly."
About 29 percent were depressed at the start
of the study, according to Williams.
During the second part of the study, they gathered
information on who had gotten married and reassessed
Williams said at that time, 30 percent of those
who remained unmarried were depressed, while
only 26 percent of those who got married were
The researchers found that those who were depressed
seemed to gain the most mental health benefits
from getting married, with depressed people
enjoying nearly a six-point higher reduction
in their depression scores after marriage than
"We actually found the opposite of what
we expected. We thought depressed people would
be less likely to benefit from marriage because
the depression of one spouse can put a strain
on the marriage and undermine marital quality,"
Frech said in a prepared statement.
As to why depressed people may enjoy more benefits
from matrimony, Williams theorized, "We
think that depressed people may have more to
gain from the emotional support and close intimate
ties that come with marriage."
That doesn't mean people who aren't depressed
won't have happy marriages, Williams quickly
added: "If you start out happy, you don't
have as far to go."
The findings don't mean that depressed people
should substitute marriage for depression treatment
either, she said.
"This was just an average association,"
said Williams. "We're not saying that depressed
individuals should run out and get married."
"Clearly, one should not look upon these
results as recommending that depressed people
should get married," said Dr. Charles Goodstein,
a clinical professor of psychiatry at the New
York University School of Medicine in New York
City. "The likelihood is strong that such
a marriage might fall apart."
But, he added, these study results suggest
that depressed people stand to gain more from
marriage. "At the very least, the depressed
person gets the sense that there's someone who
cares about them."
However, Goodstein also pointed out that this
particular survey may not accurately assess
"Depression is a much more complicated
matter than can be diagnosed on a survey. There
is such a wide range of what we call depression,
and many people can pass through society without
being seen as depressed," he said.
Williams agreed that the survey used in this
study can't be used to diagnose individual depression,
but said it was designed to give an estimate
of depression in a community population.