Relationship quality and levels of depression and anxiety in a large population-based survey

  • Liana S. Leach
  • Peter Butterworth
  • Sarah C. Olesen
  • Andrew Mackinnon
Original Paper



There is substantial literature suggesting that the mental health benefits of marriage (compared to being single) are greater for those in ‘good-quality’ relationships in comparison to those in ‘poor-quality’ relationships. However, little of this research utilises large population-based surveys. Large surveys in psychiatric epidemiology have focused almost exclusively on the association between marital status and mental health. The current study explores some of the reasons for this gap in the literature, and adopts a large, representative community-based sample to investigate whether associations between relationship status and levels of depression and anxiety are moderated by relationship quality.


Participants were from Wave 3 of the PATH Survey, a longitudinal community survey assessing the health and well-being of residents of the Canberra region, Australia (n = 3,820). Relationship quality was measured using the 7 item Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS-7), and levels of depression and anxiety were measured using the Goldberg Scales.


Both cross-sectional and prospective analyses showed that associations between relationship status and mental health were moderated by relationship quality for both men and women, such that only good-quality relationships bestowed mental health benefits over remaining single. For women, being in a poor-quality relationship was associated with greater levels of anxiety than being single.


Epidemiological studies need to measure relationship quality to qualify the effect of relationship status on mental health.


Anxiety Depression Relationship quality Population survey 



We would like to thank Professor Scott Henderson for providing valuable comments and feedback. We also thank the chief investigators and administrators of the PATH study (Kaarin Anstey, Helen Christensen, Simon Easteal, Anthony Jorm, Bryan Rodgers, Perminder Sachdev, Trish Jacomb, Karen Maxwell) and the PATH interviewers and participants. Funding for the PATH study was provided by Program Grant No. 179805 and No. 418039 from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia. Author LSL was supported by an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship No. 1035803. Author SO was supported by an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship No. 1035690. Author PB was supported by an NHMRC Career Development Award No. 525410.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liana S. Leach
    • 1
  • Peter Butterworth
    • 1
  • Sarah C. Olesen
    • 1
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    • 2
  1. 1.Psychiatric Epidemiology and Social Issues Unit, Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and WellbeingThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.ORYGEN Research CentreThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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