The following is a summary of the “Within- and cross-mental health disorder correlations in husband-and-wife pairs” published in the December 2022 issue of Psychiatry by Merrill et al.

Mental health problems are heritable and can have a devastating effect on interpersonal interactions. However, the prevalence of mental illness among the partners and spouses of those who have the mental disease is considerable. The purpose of this research is to examine the degree to which spouses with different mental health issues are correlated with one another. A cross-sectional analysis was conducted using demographic information from the Employee Eligibility Files, 2020, and medical claims data from the Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators (DMBA). 

Sub-analyses were conducted on 16,543 married persons out of 21,027 contract holders ages 18-64 (68.6% male, 31.4% female). Age-, gender-, and dependent-child status-adjusted rates and rate ratios were also calculated to provide context for the data. Spouses of those who hold contracts report stress at a rate of 19.2%, anxiety at a rate of 26.4%, and depression at a rate of 23.6%. If the policyholder has schizophrenia, the spouse is more likely to experience elevated levels of stress, anxiety, and sadness. In general, the level of prevalence of mental illness in the spouses of contract holders is higher for males than for women. After controlling for factors such as the contract holder’s age, sex, dependent child status, and the age difference between husband and wife, the rates of stress, anxiety, and depression in the spouse of a contract holder tend to be 2-3 times greater when the contract holder has a mental health disorder. 

There is, however, considerable variation in the strength of observed correlations. For example, the contract holder’s spouse is more likely to experience stress if the holder has schizophrenia (compared to if the holder does not have schizophrenia), while the opposite is true for sleep apnea (vs. does not have sleep apnea). Spouses of people with contracts are more likely to experience mental health issues themselves if the person with the contract experiences mental health issues themselves, especially if the person with the contract experiences a more severe mental illness. There are links not only between mental disorders but also between different types of mental disorders. The quality of relationships and children’s mental health are 2 areas where these findings can be applied.