Innov Aging. 2020 Jun 23;4(5):igaa022. doi: 10.1093/geroni/igaa022. eCollection 2020.
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Previous studies have linked stress to multiple negative mental health outcomes, including depression. This established stress-depression association is typically examined in one direction and cross-sectionally. This study examined the bidirectional relationships between depressive symptoms and changes in perceived stress over time in Blacks.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: The present study uses a community-dwelling sample of 450 Black adults, aged 51-96 years old, who participated in the Baltimore Study of Black Aging-Patterns of Cognitive Aging. Perceived stress-measured by the Perceived Stress Scale-and depressive symptoms-measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale-were both assessed at baseline and follow-up 33 months later. Ordinary least squares regression was used to examine 2 bidirectional longitudinal relationships between (1) stress-depression and (2) depression-stress, and whether these associations are modified by age.
RESULTS: Initial analyses testing the typical stress-depression relationship showed an effect in the expected direction, that is stress leading to more depressive symptoms over time, adjusting for model covariates, but the effect was not statistically significant (b = 0.014, p = .642). After accounting for baseline perceived stress level, age, sex, education, and chronic health conditions, depressive symptoms were positively associated with follow-up stress (b = 0.210, p < .000). The depression-stress association further varied by age group such that the impact of baseline depression on changes in perceived stress was greatest in Blacks in their 60s versus those in their 50s (b = 0.267, p = .001), controlling for model covariates.
DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS: Contrary to previous work, the results suggest that an individual’s mental health shapes his/her perception of stressful events and this relationship varies by age group. While the typical finding (stress impacting depression) was not significant, the findings reported here highlight the importance of considering the possible bidirectional nature of the relationships between psychosocial measures of stress and mental health in later life among Blacks.