Abstract: The Effect of Health Behaviors on Mental Health (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

614P The Effect of Health Behaviors on Mental Health

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Grace Taylor, Master's of Social Work, MSW, California State University, Fullerton, Torrance, CA
Juye Ji, PhD, Associate Professor, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA
Background and Purpose: A large population of adults in the United States suffer from depression and anxiety. While the most common form of treatment is psychiatric medication (ADAA, 2019), they often come with substantial side effects (Farach et al., 2012). Despite the critical role of health behaviors in mental health, day-to-day health have often been overlooked as an equally effective method of decreasing depression and anxiety (McKercher et al., 2013). Further, there is a lack of research on health behaviors and mental health, taking into account the unique differences between age and sex groups. It is important to understand how health behaviors of different age and gender groups affect their mental health and what differences exist between the groups in enhancing mental health. The present study aimed to examine the effect of health behaviors (physical activity, diet, and sleep) on mental health (depression and anxiety) among younger and older adults; and (2) age and sex differences in the hypothesized relationships between health behaviors and mental health.

Method: The study analyzed the cross-sectional data from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS Refresher): Biomarker Project, 2012-2016. The study sample consisted of 863 adults aged 25 to 76 (m=50, sd=13). Participants who were 55 or older were identified as older adults (n = 396) and those who were younger than 55 were identified as younger adults (n = 467). A nearly equal number of men (n = 413) and women (n = 450) were included. Data was collected using self-administered questionnaires. Depression was assessed by the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Inventory (CES-D, 20 items). Anxiety was assessed by General Distress-Anxious Symptoms subscale (11 items) and Anxious Arousal subscale (17 items) of the Mood and Symptom Questionnaire. Health behaviors included physical activity, diet, and sleep. Physical activity was assessed by two questions on the Medical History Screening questionnaire regarding how often participants engaged in regular physical activity. Diet was as assessed by nine questions on the Medical History Screening questionnaire regarding how often participants consumed various types of food. Sleep was measured as sleep problems, which was assessed by Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index (PSQI; Buysse et al., 1989). A series of multiple linear regression analyses were conducted separately with older and younger adult groups and male and female groups.

Results: Results found that sleep problems positively predicted depression and anxiety across all study groups (older adults, younger adults, males, and females). The more sleep problems a person experienced, the more depressive and anxious symptoms they experienced. Additionally, a significant relationship was found between diet and depression in the female group. The healthier diet a female participant maintained, the less depressive symptoms she experienced.

Implications: The findings correlating sleep and mental health among all study groups and diet and depression among females demonstrates the importance for clinicians to assess and promote health behaviors to enhance the mental health of clients. Implementing interventions to create healthy sleeping habits and a healthy diet, where appropriate, could have a large impact on a client’s mental health.