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Tensions With Mom & Sibs Can Impact Midlife Depression

Tensions With Mom & Sibs Can Impact Midlife Depression

A new study from Iowa State University finds that midlife tension with mothers and siblings, similar to that with spouses, is associated with symptoms of depression.

The research, which appears in the journal Social Sciences, found all three relationships have a similar effect, and one is not stronger than another.

“Family scholars have focused a lot on the relationship we have with our spouse,” said Megan Gilligan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of human development and family studies. “There is this assumption that as you go through your life course, you leave these other relationships with your parents and siblings behind, but you don’t. You carry those with you.”

The relationship between mothers and daughters is even more significant. The research shows tension between mothers and adult children was a stronger predictor of depression for daughters than it was for sons.

However, gender did not make a difference in relationships with spouses and siblings. Gilligan says this makes sense based on her previous research.

“We know that mothers and daughters in adulthood have the closest relationships and also the most conflictual. These are really intense relationships,” she said. “Later in life, adult children start providing more care to their parents, and daughters in particular are often caregivers for their mothers.”

Midlife is often characterized as stable and uneventful, but in reality, it is a time of change and transition for many people, Gilligan said.

For example, adult children may be leaving the house and aging parents start requiring more care. Additionally, researchers know that midlife adults often react more strongly to family conflict than older adults do.

While there is a great deal of research on young families and family dynamics later in life, there is a gap at midlife, Gilligan said. Given the potential for greater conflict with mothers or siblings related to these midlife changes, it is important to understand the consequences of negative relationships on our psychological well-being.

“Midlife is a time when siblings are often coming back together as they prepare and navigate care for parents,” she said. “For that reason, it’s a pivotal time when these family relationships might be experiencing more tension, more strain, more discord.”

The researchers believe mental health professionals should take a holistic view and consider the whole family when providing care for an individual’s depressive symptoms.

For the study, investigators used data collected through the Within-Family Differences Study. Their analysis included 495 adult children within 254 families.

For a majority of families, multiple siblings participated in the study. Researchers measured depressive symptoms and tension among family members through survey questions. They controlled for race, gender, and education.

In the paper, Gilligan and her colleagues explained that they expected all three relationships would predict depressive symptoms, but the effect would vary depending on the quality of the relationship.

The fact that they found no significant difference between spouses, mothers, and siblings is important to note, especially for practitioners. Gilligan said instead of focusing solely on a romantic partner or spouse, marriage and family therapists should ask about other sources of family stress.

“These findings show that we are navigating other family relationships at the same time and we’re not experiencing them in isolation — we’re experiencing them simultaneously,” Gilligan said.

“The stress people are experiencing may be the result of a romantic partner or spouse. However, it could also be that they’re fighting with their siblings or they’re experiencing a lot of tension with their mother even though they are 50 years old.”

Source: Iowa State University

Tensions With Mom & Sibs Can Impact Midlife Depression

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2017). Tensions With Mom & Sibs Can Impact Midlife Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/09/21/family-tensions-can-influence-mid-life-depression/126321.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Sep 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Sep 2017
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.