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Agression, Violence & Abuse   ::   Mental Health  ::   Alcohol & Drug   ::   Living Together   ::   Resources

Mental Health Issues

"Marriage is an important foundation for mental and emotional health."
- Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher

Discussion: Introduction

Many American adults suffer from some type of mental health condition and there are over 100 diagnosable conditions outlined in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The most common mental health conditions in the U.S., however, are depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse and these conditions affect an estimated 65 to 70 million people. These conditions are so prevalent that nearly 200 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were filled last year in the United States.

These conditions can complicate marriage relationships to some degree and make them more difficult than they might otherwise be, but people who suffer from one of these conditions do not seem to marry any less frequently than anyone else. Through drug therapy and/or psychotherapy, millions of people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or substance abuse are able to lead fulfilling and productive lives. They are also able to maintain successful marriage and family relationships. However, there are many others who have tremendous marital and family struggles in connection with these mental health conditions.

Although we are not suggesting that a person should avoid marrying someone they love either because they or their partner suffer from one of these conditions, we do suggest using caution and moving slowly in forming these relationships. It is a good idea to educate oneself about the signs, symptoms, prevention, and treatment of any mental health condition that you or a prospective partner may have. It is also quite common for one type of mental health condition to co-exist with another condition in the same person. Therefore, you may find it necessary to learn about depression at the same time you are learning about substance abuse.

Discussion: Depression

The three primary types of depressive disorders are dysthymia, major depression, and bipolar disorder. Depressive disorders generally affect approximately 10% of the population at any given time. A depressive disorder is an illness that involves ones body, moods, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as "being a little bit down" or having "a blue mood" that soon passes. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. However, appropriate treatment can help most people who suffer from depression. The following list contains some of the symptoms of depression.

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or empty feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable hobbies and activities (including sex)
  • Decreased energy and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, waking up early, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts or death and suicide or suicide attempt
  • Restlessness and irritability

Discussion: Anxiety

Much like depression, anxiety disorders are serious medical conditions that affect approximately 19 million American adults. These disorders fill people's lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event such as taking a test, a first date, or public speaking, anxiety disorders are chronic, relentless, and can grow progressively worse if not treated. The following list contains several types of anxiety disorders but each disorder has specific symptoms too numerous to list here.

  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Decreased energy and fatigue
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Social phobia (or social anxiety disorder)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias

Discussion: Getting Help for Depression, Anxiety, or Substance Abuse

If unsure where to go for help, check your local Yellow Pages under "mental health," "health," "social services," "suicide prevention," "crisis intervention services," "hotlines," "hospitals," "physicians," or "substance abuse" for phone numbers and addresses. In times of crisis, the emergency room doctor at a hospital may be able to provide temporary help for an emotional problem, and will be able to tell you where and how to get further help. In addition, some of the websites listed in the "helpful resources" section of this module may be helpful in learning about specific disorders and how to go about treating them.

Listed below are the types of people and places that will make a referral to, or provide, diagnostic and treatment services.

  • Family doctors
  • Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, substance abuse counselors or other mental health counselors
  • Health maintenance organizations
  • Community mental health centers
  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
  • University or medical school affiliated programs
  • State hospital outpatient clinics
  • Family services, social agencies, or clergy
  • Private clinics and facilities
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies

Discussion: The Link between Marital Status and Mental Health

In their book, The Case for Marriage , Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher point out that Americans seem to have two competing visions of marriage. One vision is that marriage is a doorway to happiness and the other is that marriage is an obstacle to individual growth. What they have found through their research is that for most couples, marriage appears to be an important pathway toward better mental and emotional health of both partners. In other words, married couples are generally happier than people in other types of relationships. Waite and Gallagher report that "married men and women report less depression, less anxiety, and lower levels of other types of psychological distress than do those who are single, divorced, or widowed."

Some people have argued that the reason married couples are generally happier and more emotionally healthy than other people is because they were already that way to begin with. They believe that healthy people find one another, get married, and remain healthy. However, research shows that the selection of people who are already happy and healthy into marriage cannot explain the big advantages in mental and emotional health that husbands and wives enjoy. This means that a strong, healthy marriage, has the potential to increase ones mental and emotional health regardless of their levels prior to marriage. Waite and Gallagher report that "when people get married, their mental health improves--consistently and substantially" and "when people separate and divorce, they suffer substantial deterioration in mental and emotional well-being, including increases in depression and declines in reported happiness, compared to the married."

Even though all marriages have their ups and downs, research has shown that if couples are willing to stick it out during the tough times, and not separate or divorce, most couples report being significantly happier with their marriages five years later. That's because marriage provides people with a sense of meaning and purpose that may be lacking in other types of less committed relationships.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, December 06). Things to Watch Out For. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.usu.edu/Family__Consumer____Human_Development/Marriage___Family_Relationships/Things_to_Watch_Out_For_2.html. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License