Study examines links between mental health and life satisfaction

Sad, tired or depressed businessman

Many young people, especially those who are struggling, believe their lives will improve in time. But a study out of Brock University, published in Clinical Psychological Science, shows that for the clinically depressed, the belief that life will get better in the future may forecast more harm than good.

Dr. Michael Busseri of Brock’s department of Psychology and Emily Peck, who completed her undergraduate degree at Brock and is now pursuing her MA at Acadia University, conducted the study together and published their results jointly in the fall.

Busseri and Peck focused on depressed or recently-depressed individuals under the age of 45, using results from a large-scale study of American adults. Depression can make people view their lives in a negative way. Busseri and Peck wanted to determine how depressed individuals would view their futures compared to how they viewed their past and present lives.

While most people in the study anticipated a brighter future, even those who were depressed, this rosy view of the years to come actually placed individuals at a higher risk for clinical depression 10 years in the future.

“Many people will be surprised to learn that the belief that life ‘gets better’ or more satisfying over time may not be a positive sign,” says Dr. Busseri. “Instead, this particular type of belief is linked with a heightened, rather than a reduced, risk of depression.”

Ongoing research in the department’s Well-Being Research Lab may help determine if the study’s findings could be helpful in the treatment of depression. If, for example, mental health workers can help individuals develop concrete goals and strategies for achieving life satisfaction, perceptions of future satisfaction might be positively affected.

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