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Reported marital harmony or conflict accounts for nearly 10% of variation in mental health self-assessments

Marriage and relationship perceptions accounted for 10% of the variation in mental health scores, with participants who perceived their relationships as good and meeting their original expectations tending to have higher mental health scores.

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Adults who report a good relationship that meets their original expectations tend to score higher in mental health, while adults who report loving their spouse but wished they had never entered the relationship and note relationship problems tend to score significantly lower in mental health.

This is according to a study – “Associations of nuptiality perceptions, financial difficulties, and socio-demographic factors with mental health status in Australian adults: Analysis of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey” by Bernard Kwadwo Yeboah Asiamah-Asare, Prince Peprah, Collins Adu, Bright Opoku Ahinkorah, and Isaac Yeboah Addo – that appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.

Many recent studies have examined the possible social determinants of mental health. In this study, the researchers looked specifically at how one’s marriage or past marital experiences may interact with self-described financial problems and mental health status. 

To assess how these factors may be associated, the authors analyzed data gathered from 6,846 Australian adults responding to the most recent iteration of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey.

The respondents were mostly older than 42 (61%), born in Australia (78%), and married (78%), with an almost even gender split (51% women). Approximately 7% had poor mental health as indicated by the survey.

Two percent of the variation in mental health scores could be attributed to demographic characteristics: participants 60 and older tended to have higher mental health scores compared to participants younger than 25 years; being a woman, born outside of Australia, retired, and/or being a student was also associated with poorer mental health scores.

Three percent of the variation in mental health scores could be linked to financial difficulty, with participants who said “yes” when asked if they experienced difficulties paying utility bills on time, pawned or sold some belongings, sought financial help from friends/family, or sought help from welfare/community organizations tending to score lower on mental health.

The authors note dthat this finding of love not being enough to boost mental health scores in people experiencing relationship difficulties was surprising and unexpected, and suggest further research to investigate possible confounding factors. They also underscored the importance of marriage and relationships in understanding mental health more holistically.

The authors added: “There is a need for more policy attention toward the social determinants of poor mental health especially nuptiality or relationship perceptions, which have received less policy and research attention.”

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