Well-being has long been associated with psychological health. In the study on internalizing problems, such as anxiety and depression, well-being has been shown to have a predictive value in that negative well-being increases the risk of these problems. Existing research has focused on several factors that influence well-being, including childhood maltreatment, history of abuse, previous psychological distress, and demographic traits. Further, much of the existing research on well-being and psychological health has been conducted longitudinally.
But Faren Grant of the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County wanted to see if assessing well-being could predict short term changes in mood and specifically, risk of depression. To test this theory, Grant followed a group of more than 1,600 medical students during their first 12 months of practical internship. The students were evaluated at baseline and every three months during a one year period for signs of well-being, stress, depression, and other psychological characteristics.
Grant found that as early as the first three-month assessment, low well-being was able to indicate risk of depression. Over the 12-month study period, the students with the lowest well-being had the highest levels of depression. Stress was a significant predictor of low well-being in this sample, and indirectly increased the risk of depression.
In sum, Grant believes the findings of this study provide a novel and effective approach for assessing risk of depression. For high risk individuals, particularly those with a history of psychological conditions, family or childhood maltreatment, distress, or other issues, evaluating well-being could prove very insightful and could allow for early intervention and perhaps even prevention of depressive symptoms.
Caregivers and family members should be aware of signs of low well-being and should be educated on ways to help individuals increase well-being in high-risk individuals. Taking these precautionary steps could decrease depressive symptoms on an individual level and could lessen the financial, emotional, and global burden of the condition. Grant concluded by saying, “These findings suggest that clinicians and researchers should assess well-being when they determine the risk for depression in their patients and participants.”
Grant, F., Guille, C., Sen, S. (2013). Well-being and the risk of depression under stress. PLoS ONE 8(7): e67395. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067395
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