Background: Although previous studies found protective associations of altruistic behaviors (AB) with positive mental health outcomes, these studies were limited to unspecified mental health outcomes and non-nationally representative studies. It is needed to examine the association of AB with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depression (MD).
Methods: Data collected from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) in 1995-1996 for those aged between 25 and 74, who completed both the telephone survey and the self-administered questionnaire (N=4,242) were analyzed. GAD and MD were measured by telephone on the basis of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview, while AB was measured by the questionnaire. Multivariate logistic regression was used to observe the independent effects of AB on GAD and MD.
Results: AB had a weak protective effect on GAD. However, AB had a significant and independent harmful effect on MD after controlling for demographic variables (gender, age, working status, and marital status).
Limitations: Since the MIDUS study is cross-sectional, the causality of the associations between AB with GAD and MD cannot be established. Other possible confounders that explain these associations were not controlled.
Conclusion: AB might be recommendable to prevent GAD, but on the other hand, it could be a risk factor for individuals having MD. Longitudinal studies are needed to explore the mechanism of the onset of GAD and MD through enhanced AB.