There’s been much discussion and many surveys done on how marriage affects the health of Baby Boomers. Depending on the source and the spin put on it, the results vary. Earlier studies appear to suggest that marrieds are the healthiest, especially the men, but current research could be reversing that finding. With more Baby Boomer widows and divorcees choosing to stay single, many women report being happier with their single state and the freedom that comes with it. Whenever the subject of getting married comes up, my single female friends who are single Baby Boomers say they would never get married again. The majority of the single men I talk to are open to another relationship, but there are always those who do well on their own and prefer it remains that way. Widowers who have been in a fulfilling relationship are often the ones who want to remarry. So does the freedom to make choices on their own about how they live their life, perhaps for the first time, make single Baby Boomers happy and less susceptible to depression or depressed because they live their life alone?
Depression affects your well-being just like any physiological ailment, but the studies on the health of marrieds vs. singles usually don’t address that aspect of health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. It’s a leading cause of disability. “What Is Depression?” at https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/depression reports that depression is an illness that interferes with concentration, motivation and many other aspects of everyday functioning. “It is a complex disorder, involving many systems of the body, including the immune system, either as cause or effect. It disrupts sleep, and it interferes with appetite, in some cases causing weight loss, in others weight gain. Because of its complexity, a full understanding of depression has been elusive.”
There’s some evidence that depression is related to diet, both directly through the nutrients we consume, such as omega-3 fats and indirectly, through the composition of the bacteria in the gut. It causes pain for those with the disorder and those who care about them.
Depression isn’t an occasional blue mood. It’s a pervasive experience of repetitive negative rumination, bleak outlook, and lack of energy. It’s not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed away. There’s some evidence it serves a positive purpose, bringing with it ways of thinking that force people to focus on problems and motivate them to seek help to solve them.
Even the most severe cases of depression are cyclical and early treatment may prevent or forestall recurrent episodes. Studies show that the most effective treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy. It addresses problematic thought patterns. It can be used with or without the use of antidepressant drugs. In addition, the evidence currently shows that regular mindfulness meditation, alone or combined with cognitive therapy, can stop depression at its onset by disengaging attention from the repetitive negative thoughts that often set in motion the downward spiral of mood.
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So are single Baby Boomers more susceptible to depression? If you just look at studies done on the benefits of marriage to your health without taking a close look at the statistics, you’ll believe the hype. But as Bella DePaulo cites in her book, Singles Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, these studies don’t take into account the statistics that show never married people have a lower incident of health issues than their married friends.
Two articles on the Livestrong.com website state “The World Health Organization says single and divorced people have an overall two to four times greater rate of depression, with men facing a higher risk than women.” Then another article cites the American Psychological Association report that says “. . . married women are actually more stressed than single women.” Who can we believe? If you’re single or married and are predisposed to depression, then you can have a problem any time you have an event in your life that causes you distress. The death of a loved one and divorce often top the list, but other things such as a move, the loss of a job or even changing jobs can cause a chemical imbalance in our bodies and push us into a depressive state.
You also need to take into account all of the causes of stress in your life. If you decided to remain single and childless, you take a factor of stress and possible depression out of your life, children. Yes, the little darlings can give you moments of unbounded joy and may take care of you in your old age, but there are no guarantees. Even the sweetest child can be a source of stress for their parents. All children can have health, emotional, substance abuse or learning problems, hang with the wrong crowd or dislike the way you choose to spend your life, your friends or partner because it affects their life.
Singles have been accused of having attachment issues which can be caused by unresolved childhood attachment issues that “leave an adult vulnerable to difficulties in forming secure adult relationships” according to Evergreen Consultants in Human Behavior. They also posit that “There is a strong correlation between insecure adult attachment and marital dissatisfaction and negative marital interactions.” Although this is a legitimate psychological disorder, can the decision to remain single be considered a psychological problem? Singles can form an attachment to family members and friends. These secure relationships can be as rewarding and healthy as the attachments you form with a spouse.
It’s time to quit apologizing and worrying about what people think about you being single. I’m not advising you to keep away from all relationships that cause you stress, just suggesting that you look for the warning signs of stressful situations that could possibly overwhelm you and cause depression. A dating site called Depression Dating matches members with other people who are suffering from depression and takes advantage of the depressed and lonely. No one needs friends like those.
Continue the adventure!