Background. Previous studies suggest that separation is a major stressful life event that is linked with marked increases in depressive symptoms. Little is known, however, about the sources of variation in depressive symptoms following separation.
Method. This study examines factors moderating the effect of separation on depressive symptoms in women participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a prospective, longitudinal study of a large community sample in the west of England. Data on marital/partner status, depression, and hypothesized moderating factors were available on women (n=8264), assessed on two occasions approximately 12 months apart.
Results. Over this 1-year period, 2·7% of women experienced a separation. As expected, those who experienced a separation between assessment periods reported, on average, a significant increase in depressive symptoms, approximately 0·25 of a S.D. However, there were marked individual differences in response to separation, with 56·1% showing a increase of 0·5 S.D. or more and 21·0% showing an decrease of 0·5 S.D. or more in depressive symptoms following separation. Regression analyses identified several factors that moderated response to separation; specifically, the effect of separation on depressive symptoms was less for women who were in a cohabiting (non-marital) relationship and for women who experienced elevated marital conflict prior to separation.
Conclusion. The results underscore the wide variation in responses to separation and document the need to consider context in interpreting the effects of major life events on depressive symptoms.