Midlife and late-life risk factors for the development of depressive symtpoms and the role of chronic stress, positive affect and negative affect

Katherine Campbell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The Women’s Healthy Ageing Project (WHAP) is an ongoing longitudinal epidemiological study examining factors that contribute to women’s healthy ageing in a sample of community dwelling Australian women. The research conducted for this thesis examined the long-term impact of lifestyle and health variables on the later development of depressive symptoms in the WHAP women as they transitioned from mid to late life, utilising data points spanning 20 years.
The thesis reports on two main studies. Part 1 describes the lifestyle and health variables assessed in midlife that were significantly associated with higher depressive symptom scores in late life. Lower positive mood scores at age 50 and 60 years were associated with higher depressive symptoms scores at age 70. The number of daily hassles reported by women at mean age 50 years, but not 60 years, was associated with higher depressive symptoms at mean age 70. Cross-sectional analysis conducted when women were mean age 70 years demonstrated that those who reported more bothersome symptoms or who had higher anxiety at the time of assessment were more likely to also report higher depressive symptom scores. The findings suggest that there are age-specific risk factors that increase the risk of depressive symptoms for women as they transition across the midlife and into late life, representing potential specialised targets for early assessment and intervention.
Positive affect and daily hassles severity, a measure of chronic stress, were consistently associated with the later development of depressive symptoms across the transition from midlife to late life in the WHAP cohort. Part 2 of the thesis reports on the examination of the role and extent to which positive and negative affect influenced the impact of chronic stress on the development of later depressive symptoms. Little research has been conducted examining the impact of positive and negative affect on chronic stress in longitudinal cohort studies, despite the fact that positive affect has been shown to be associated with characteristics in an individual that mediate or moderate the relationship between the occurrence of stressors and the development of depressive symptoms. It was hypothesised that positive affect would reduce the impact of chronic stress on the later development of depressive symptoms. Mediation analysis showed that negative affect played a more significant role as an earlier risk factor, while positive affect became a greater, significant protective factor closer to the onset of the depressive symptoms. In contrast, negative affect was shown to significantly increase the long-term effect of stress, making an individual more vulnerable to developing depressive symptoms up to 20 years later. The changing influence of affect on risk suggests that intervention strategies targeting improving positive affect and resilience may become increasingly important as women age. Importantly, the research suggests that the exacerbating effect of negative affect on stress requires early intervention given the long-lasting impact of this as a risk factor.
The work presented in this thesis builds on earlier research conducted by the candidate for the purpose of PhD candidature that described mood change over time and its relationship to menopause. The work presented in this thesis represents original research and analysis, and the results have not been previously published for any other degree or diploma.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Psychology (Clinical)
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Szoeke, Cassandra, Principal Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Grant Number

  • Depression
  • Women's Healthy Ageing Project
  • Affect


Dive into the research topics of 'Midlife and late-life risk factors for the development of depressive symtpoms and the role of chronic stress, positive affect and negative affect'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this