Psychological well-being and ill-being: do they have distinct or mirrored biological correlates?

Psychother Psychosom. 2006;75(2):85-95. doi: 10.1159/000090892.


Background: Increasingly, researchers attend to both positive and negative aspects of mental health. Such distinctions call for clarification of whether psychological well-being and ill-being comprise opposite ends of a bipolar continuum, or are best construed as separate, independent dimensions of mental health. Biology can help resolve this query--bipolarity predicts 'mirrored' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being correlate similarly with biomarkers, but show opposite directional signs), whereas independence predicts 'distinct' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being have different biological signatures).

Methods: Multiple aspects of psychological well-being (eudaimonic, hedonic) and ill-being (depression, anxiety, anger) were assessed in a sample of aging women (n = 135, mean age = 74) on whom diverse neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA-S) and cardiovascular factors (weight, waist-hip ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total/HDL cholesterol, glycosylated hemoglobin) were also measured.

Results: Measures of psychological well-being and ill-being were significantly linked with numerous biomarkers, with some associations being more strongly evident for respondents aged 75+. Outcomes for seven biomarkers supported the distinct hypothesis, while findings for only two biomarkers supported the mirrored hypothesis.

Conclusion: This research adds to the growing literature on how psychological well-being and mental maladjustment are instantiated in biology. Population-based inquiries and challenge studies constitute important future directions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / blood
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hypercholesterolemia / epidemiology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Biomarkers
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Hydrocortisone