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Depression risk higher for divorced men: Statistics Canada

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2007 | 11:45 AM ET

When a man's marriage breaks down, he may be at higher risk of depression than people who remain together and women who divorce or separate, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

The study looked at the link between marriages that break down in separation or divorce and their effects on emotional health, using data from the National Population Health Survey.

Overall, when a couple's marriage or common-law relationship ended, depression occurred in about 12 per cent of cases, compared with three per cent among people who remained in a relationship, two years after participants were first interviewed in 1994-1995.

Men aged 20 to 64 who had divorced or separated were six times more likely to report an episode of depression than were men who remained married.

The comparable depression figure for women left alone after broken marriages was 3.5 times more likely.

Loss of custody, social support  "Research has suggested that for men the loss of custody or a change in parental responsibilities is one of the most stressful aspects of a break-up," the study said.

Among 34 per cent of men surveyed, children left their household after the relationship ended, compared with three per cent for women.

The loss of social support during a break-up "may be particularly difficult for men. Many men rely solely on their partner for support, while women tend to have larger social networks," wrote study author Michelle Rotermann of the agency's health analysis and measurement group.

A break-up means not only the loss of a partner but also a division in the size of a social network of extended family and mutual friends.

For women, their economic well-being often suffered after a break up. While nearly 30 per cent of separated men experienced an improvement in the ranking of their income adjusted for size of household, for women it was less than 10 per cent.

But marital break-up was tied to risk for depression after taking into account other factors such as change in household income, social support or the number of children in the household, history of depression, education level and age, Statistics Canada said.

Considering that nearly 71,000 married couples divorced and thousands more separated in 2003 and the link between divorce and mental health problems, "these findings are relevant to population health," the study concluded.

Time did seem to help. More than three-quarters of those reporting a depressive episode in the two-year period after the break-up did not report another episode when they were re-interviewed after four years.