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Research Suggests Lasting Mental Health May Not Be the Norm

Woman watching the sunriseA majority of people develop a mental health issue or experience temporarily poor mental health at some point in life, according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. This finding suggests those who have enduring good mental health throughout life may not be the norm. Understanding this could help reduce the stigma surrounding poor mental health.

Most estimates of mental health diagnoses look at who currently has a diagnosis, not the number of people who ever develop a mental health condition. The National Institute of Mental Health, for instance, says 17.9% of American adults had a mental health diagnosis during 2015.

Are Mental Health Diagnoses a ‘Normal’ Part of Life?

Researchers pulled data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, an ongoing study gathering data on a representative sample of New Zealanders.

The study looked at 988 participants. Just 171 (17%) experienced no mental health diagnoses from ages 11-38. The remainder experienced either a transient mental health condition or a long-term mental health diagnosis. That group was evenly split, with 408 (41%) experiencing a diagnosis that lasted several years and 409 (41%) experiencing short-term mental health conditions, which usually involved a single bout of anxiety or depression.

The study’s authors say this suggests enduring mental health is not the usual human experience, but a variant that must be better understood.

Why Do Some People Have Enduring Mental Health?

Some previous research suggests high socioeconomic status or good physical health predict better mental health, but the 17% of participants who were never diagnosed with a mental health condition did not fit this mold. Instead, they tended to have highly adaptive personalities. They had higher-than-average self-control, strong social relationships, and expressed few negative views. People with long-lasting good mental health were also less likely to have relatives with mental health diagnoses.

Most people with enduring good mental health reported better relationships, greater life satisfaction, and higher educational and occupational attainments than their peers. However, sound mental health did not guarantee a better quality of life for everyone. Nearly a quarter of those with no previous mental health diagnosis scored lower than average on measures of life satisfaction.

The study’s authors believe this finding, which shows most people will develop a mental health condition at some point, can help to reduce stigma surrounding mental health issues in general.


  1. Any mental illness (AMI) among U.S. Adults. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-us-adults.shtml
  2. Bower, B. (2017, February 07). Long-lasting mental health isn’t normal. Retrieved from https://www.sciencenews.org/article/long-lasting-mental-health-isnt-normal
  3. Schaefer, J. D., Caspi, A., Belsky, D. W., Harrington, H., & Moffitt, T. E. (2016). Enduring mental health: Prevalence and prediction. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. doi:10.1037/abn0000232

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  • Micah

    February 10th, 2017 at 10:49 AM

    Learning about this has been a comfort to me.
    Not that I want anyone to be miserable right along with me but I have friends and family who have made me feel so awkward to even talk to them about my troubles.
    They have always made me feel like I was weird and strange while all of their lives are so happy go lucky.
    So either they are all telling me one gigantic lie or they are all lying to themselves.

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