Whether described as positive reappraisal coping, benefit-finding, or adversarial growth, perceiving benefits in physical illness has been associated repeatedly with positive long-term results. However, little research has explored whether those with mental disorders perceive similar benefits from their illness.
Following models from the health psychology literature, depressed participants (N = 192 undergraduates and 16 community participants) were assessed longitudinally to determine whether individuals perceived positive aspects of depression. Perceived positives were assessed both qualitatively through open-ended questions and quantitatively using measures assessing positive reappraisal, benefit-finding, and adversarial growth. In addition, demographic, mood, and illness-related variables were assessed as possible predictors of perceiving benefits. Dependent measures included quality of life, psychological distress, physical symptoms, and activity restriction.
As secondary gain theories seem to conflict with the concept of better outcomes stemming from observing benefits in illness, participants were also asked about changes in finances, responsibilities, and others' expectations. These measures were then contrasted with the above measures of perceived positives to assess for similarities and differences across the constructs of benefit-finding and secondary gain.
Finally, as gender has been strongly related to both depression and perceiving positive aspects of illness, moderation analyses were run to determine to what extent gender influenced the above relations.
Forty-four percent of students and 64% of community participants reported some benefit in their depression. Areas of growth for individuals with depression primarily overlapped with those previously reported in physical illness; however, they also included references to increased creativity and did not include references to spiritual change. Similarly, antecedents and consequents of perceived benefits were both similar to and different from those previously reported in the health psychology literature. Significant gender interactions were found for multiple outcomes, with more positive outcomes associated with greater levels of perceiving positive aspects of depression for women only. Secondary gain as measured by changes in responsibilities paralleled findings for perceiving benefits, whereas changes in others’ expectations more closely paralleled secondary gain theories. Future directions and clinical implications are discussed.