Suicidal after divorce

Divorce and suicide risk | Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

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Divorce and suicide risk


  1. A J Kposowa
  1. Department of Sociology, University of California, 1214 Watkins Hall, 900 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92521, USA;

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    • divorce
    • suicide

    There is accumulating evidence that divorced and separated people have much higher suicide rates than their married counterparts. In a previous paper published in this journal, it was observed that divorced and separated men were nearly 2.4 times more likely to kill themselves than their married counterparts.1 That study, however, failed to directly compare divorced men and women. While it informed us that divorced people are at higher risk of suicide than the married, it said nothing about the suicide risk of divorced men relative to divorced women. The purpose of this communication is to assess the magnitude of the differentials in suicide risk between the two groups, and explore possible reasons that might explain the disparities.

    Data were obtained from the US National Longitudinal Mortality Study (NLMS), 1979–1989,2 and covariates used were taken from Kposowa. 1 The response variable was the risk of suicide, and analysis was restricted to divorced and separated non-Hispanic white men and women. Proportional hazards regression models were fitted to the data, and relevant results are in table 1.

    Model 1 presents the age adjusted effects of sex on the risk of suicide. Divorced men were over eight times more likely to commit suicide than divorced women (RR = 8.36, 95% CI = 4.24 to16.38). After taking into account other factors that have been reported to contribute to suicide, divorced men still experienced much increased risks of suicide than divorced women. They were nearly 9.7 times more likely to kill themselves than comparable divorced women (RR = 9.68, 95% CI = 4.87 to 19.22). Put another way, for every divorced woman that committed suicide, over nine divorced men killed themselves.

    These results dramatise the terrible consequences of being a divorced man in America, and lead to the question: why are divorced men killing themselves? Some analysts argue that the research community has ignored a plausible explanation for the excess suicide risks experienced by divorced men. As Perrault3 and Farrell4 observe, while social, psychological, and even personal problems facing women are readily denounced, societal institutions tend to ignore or minimise male problems as evident in suicide statistics. For instance, in many jurisdictions in the US there seems to be an implicit assumption that the bond between a woman and her children is stronger than that between a man and his children.5 As a consequence, in a divorce settlement, custody of children is more likely to be given to the wife. In the end, the father loses not only his marriage, but his children. The result may be anger at the court system especially in situations wherein the husband feels betrayed because it was the wife that initiated the divorce, or because the courts virtually gave away everything that was previously owned by the ex-husband or the now defunct household to the former wife. Events could spiral into resentment (toward the spouse and “the system”), bitterness, anxiety, and depression, reduced self esteem, and a sense of “life not worth living”. As depression and poor mental health are known markers of suicide risk, it may well be that one of the fundamental reasons for the observed association between divorce and suicide in men is the impact of post divorce (court sanctioned) “arrangements”. Clearly this is an issue that needs further investigation.

    Table 1

    Hazards regression estimates of the impact of divorce on the risk of white suicide


    1. Kposowa AJ. Marital status and suicide in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study. J Epidemiol Community Health3000;54:254–61.

    2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Longitudinal Mortality Study1979–1989 [Machine-readable public use data tape]. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 1995.

    3. Perrault C. And if we speak about men? Sante Ment Que1990;15:134–44.

    4. Farrell W. The myth of male power. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

    5. Furstenberg FF, Sherwood KE, Sullivan ML. Caring and paying: what fathers and mothers say about child support. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research, 1992.

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    Divorce Is a Risk Factor for Suicide, Especially for Men

    The link between divorce and suicide has been known since the pioneering sociological studies of Emile Durkheim. In the United States, the rate of suicide among persons who are divorced or separated is usually reported as about 2. 4 times greater than the suicide rate for married persons. A successful marriage, it seems, can be a protective factor against death by suicide. Conversely, separation and divorce seems to raise suicide risk.

    Kposowa (2003) made an extremely important point about the "married versus divorced" suicide divide. Dr. Kposowa noted that there were huge differences between the suicide rates among divorced men, as compared to divorced women. In fact, the data showed that, compared to divorced women, divorced men were nine times more likely to die by suicide. Put another way, for every one divorced woman who dies by suicide, there are nine divorced men who do so.

    This 9-to-1 ratio dwarves the 3.5-to-1 male "advantage" we typically see in suicide deaths. In 2017, for example, 36,782 American men died by suicide, versus 10,391 American women. Clearly, the disparity in deaths among divorced males is not simply the result of men being generally "more suicidal than women. " Therefore, something more than the typical explanations for the male-female imbalance in suicide death (e.g., men choose more lethal means, men are more likely to abuse substances, men are more aggressive, etc.) is at work.

    Dr. Kposowa, a sociologist at the University of California–Riverside, suggested that society has undervalued the strength of paternal-child bonds, and thus underestimated the traumatic effect of severing those bonds through our typical custody arrangements. Further, we fail to appreciate the catastrophic financial impact of divorce on men, and the anger and resentment engendered by losses of both property and status in the wake of a divorce settlement.

    I suspect that something else is afoot. Couldn't it be that the personality and social factors that contributed to the failure of the marriage also contribute to excess suicide risk afterward? Couldn't the risk factors for divorce in men be related to the risk factors for suicide in divorced men? Female dissatisfaction with the marriage is a stable predictor of an eventual divorce. Perhaps we should consider marital behaviors that might lead to such dissatisfaction.

    Suppose that a certain married man spends more than he makes, runs up marital debts, makes poor financial decisions, drinks too much, eats too much, shoots his mouth off at people who could make him pay for it, and makes sexual advances toward women who are not his wife. In other words, we a marked pattern of impulsiveness, poor decision making, poor self-discipline, and poor inhibition. We might label this category of behaviors as poor frontal lobe functioning, or low conscientiousness. After the eventual divorce, when contemplating his situation, might this person also be at higher risk of making yet another ill-advised decision?

    Now suppose a second man throws himself into his work, to the detriment of his social relationships. His friendships gradually fall away. His wife and children feel ignored or worse, that they are regarded by him as inconveniences. He works late at night and on the weekends, drawing a quiet satisfaction from his steady advancement and his growing purchasing power (not that he encourages the "waste" of his hard-earned money on vacations or entertainment). At some point, he is genuinely surprised to be handed divorce papers by his wife or by a sheriff's deputy hired to do the deed. Hadn't he given her everything a woman could want? Never mind that he had not so much as touched her or looked into her eyes for a matter of years.

    After a divorce, such a man is bereft. There are no friends to offer solace; there are only co-workers (and they are seen mostly as competitors or as means to an end). Trying at this late date to build a relationship with his now distant children is futile; they are strangers to him. He is wary of dating other women, convinced as he now is that women just intend to rob him of his property through means of the family court. Isolated, friendless, without a single companion — surely this is a fertile ground for suicidal planning and execution.

    A final hypothetical divorcee wasn't surprised at all that his wife wanted to divorce him; it was a bit puzzling to him all along why she ever married him. He spent most of their marriage feeling low, and not really having the energy or motivation to improve his situation. He was his own worse enemy, he knew, and he would spend hours a day, reminding himself of what a "loser" and "failure" he was. This, of course, made him feel even worse about himself. His wife begged him once to get some kind of help, but what would be the point of that? The divorce just proved the point he had been making to himself all along. He was just a burden to everyone around him, he thought, and people would be better off without him around.

    These three briefly sketched profiles are by no means representative of all men who die by suicide after a divorce. Each death after divorce is a unique, preventable tragedy. As a society, we must do more to recognize the lethal risk posed by divorce, and to better assist men as they navigate this devastating life experience. It is always important to remember that we lose individual human beings to suicide, each in his or her own way, for reasons peculiar to him or her. When we make simplistic claims like "divorce causes suicide," we risk losing sight of the individual tragedies involved.

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    Author: It doesn't matter, but I'm a guy

    01/21/2023 06:27

    Need help

    I have suicidal thoughts. I am 17 years old and I cannot find a purpose in life. It seems that I was born in vain, I am not interested in anything and I am not interested in anyone in this life. I don't have any issues with my appearance. There are no problems in life, except for this. True, I have been studying poorly lately, this is due precisely to this. I have a girlfriend, but I still feel lonely. It seems that everything is fine, but I am very sad to live in this world. I do not want to romanticize all this, and do not think that such thoughts have come and gone, I have been thinking about this for a long time and seriously. I would like to know ways to recover from this in order to live a normal life. nine0005


    Answer: Service Advisor

    1/21/2023 11:49

    Hello Guy. You wonder about the meaning of life, not finding it, you begin to conclude: "I was born in vain." This belief in itself is like a limiter for the logical mind. The mind reasons: "If a person was born in vain, then why would he want something, why would he need energy for life, why would he need something then?" And there is an even greater devaluation of oneself and one's own life. And all this is an action of the mental plan, but there are still feelings that arise in response to certain thoughts. You write: "I am not interested in anyone in this life." And how do you feel when these thoughts pop up in your head? Have you ever wondered: "Am I interesting to myself, am I interested in my personality and my life?" After all, the outside world, people, situations - all this is a reflection of what is inside us. It's like in mathematics - "I don't need myself" = "I don't need other people", "I don't need my life = other people only need their life". There are no obvious problems and difficulties in your life, you accept your appearance, there is a girl, but inside there is a deep feeling of loneliness. Sometimes, we need to be in a state of loneliness in order to look deeper inside ourselves, into our soul, to feel our needs and desires, to chart a life path. Some people perceive their inner loneliness as something bad, give it a negative assessment, and from this state make decisions that are not about life. You write that you have been living with such thoughts for a long time, you perceive them as a disease, you want to understand how to get rid of them. nine0005

    If you perceive your state of mind as a disease, then it is important to deal with this disease on three levels - mental, emotional, physical. On the mental level, healing is possible if thinking changes, a person is aware of his destructive thought patterns, is aware of his internal blocks, and deals with them in order to grow personally. The emotional level is dealing with feelings. Sometimes people lose access to their feelings, emotions, and live their lives like zombies, not feeling either themselves or feel other people. The emotional level is very related to the thoughts that a person produces. The body is what allows us to live, do something, think about something, without a body we do not exist, therefore, in the "treatment" of any ailment - physical or psycho-emotional, it makes sense to connect the body. The body loves movement, it is so tripled. In any stressful situation, physical activity is a way of self-help. Reflect on this to see what you can do for yourself on all three levels. If you feel the need for help, then contact a face-to-face consultation with a psychologist who will help transformation at the level of mind and feelings. nine0005

    Best regards, Irina.

    Author: Svet

    01/21/2023 03:06

    I do not want to live

    I don’t want to live more, I can’t, help me, I have two children 3 years old and 2 months old I can’t understand more



    Answers: Service Consultant

    01/21/2023 05:13

    Hello, Sveta. Lately it has been very difficult for you, you are tired and depressed, it seems that you have lost your desire and will to live. You want to overcome this state. nine0005

    I'm sorry you're going through such a difficult period right now. Despite the depth of your experiences, you managed to ask for help, and this is important. This is a responsible and decisive step, the first step towards "healing". You should not be alone during such a period, and you have every right to support, acceptance and understanding.

    Sometimes, getting into a difficult situation, it seems to us that no one understands us, we are afraid that they will not want to help us. Consider whether someone close to you (family, friends, even colleagues) can support you. In most cases, it turns out that those close to us do not even know about the depth of our experiences, because. used to expressing emotions differently, or immersed in personal difficulties. You do not feel support from your spouse, is it possible that he simply does not know how difficult it is for you, or vice versa, is he faced with an unknown state and is confused, even scared? Consider sharing with loved ones again, they can become a reliable support in restoring your emotional state. nine0005

    Unfortunately, the content of your letter does not allow us to consider the situation in sufficient detail. I suggest you seek help by calling emergency psychological help, free of charge and anonymously:


    8-499-791-20-50; 8495-637-70-70 - these numbers can be contacted to discuss the likelihood of depression, ways to overcome it. Here you can also discuss suicidal thoughts (which the subject of your letter hints at, no one except specialists will know about it, unless you yourself decide to share it with someone). nine0005

    Sincerely, Alexandra.

    Author: Alexander

    20.01.2023 23:57


    I want to commit suicide. Can you suggest something better: a stab wound in the throat or hanged?


    Reply: Service Consultant

    01/21/2023 02:02

    Hello Alexander.

    I don’t know what has happened or is happening in your life that makes you think about suicide as a way to get rid of mental suffering, life’s difficulties, but I know for sure that now you need help and support, as indicated by your appeal to our site. nine0005

    Alexander, sometimes it can be very difficult for a person to find the strength and resources to cope with the ongoing difficulties in his life, to find solutions to intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts. In a gloomy state of mind, it is very difficult to objectively assess the problem situation, one's capabilities, to see a life perspective. A professional perspective is very important here. But, unfortunately, Alexander, you do not give enough information about yourself and your problem so that I can draw some conclusions and give certain recommendations. And the rubric "Questions to the psychologist" does not imply a dialogue, during which it would be possible to find out all the circumstances of what happened and outline ways to solve problems. Therefore, I suggest you call our service +7 (495) 989-50-50 or any available helpline in your region and get expert help during the conversation. You can also open a topic in your Personal Account.

    You contacted our service, Alexander, you have taken the first step. It is important not to stop there and find an opportunity to talk with a psychologist in a dialogue format. So there will be more opportunities to talk about what worries you, to share the feelings and experiences that fill you. They will listen to you and provide possible assistance and support. Don't put off your call! nine0005

    Sincerely, Service Advisor.

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    Hello, Lisa. My condolences. In the summer, misfortune happened, my brother died in an accident. This loss has had a profound effect on you and your life. There is a lot of pain inside, which sometimes breaks through bouts of crying and irritability. At the level of actions, the desire to do something has disappeared, your favorite work has ceased to please, study does not inspire, you want to quit it. nine0005

    Liza, what is happening to you now inevitably arises in a situation of loss of loved ones. Various feelings can rise - sadness, despair, impotence, guilt, aggression. Against the background of these emotional states, various thoughts come that can intensify painful experiences. In a situation of loss of a loved one, sometimes there may be a feeling of meaninglessness of life, loss of interest. A person lives like a lost woman, doing something out of inertia, but there is no energy of life in this. The same thing is happening to you right now. And it is important not to succumb to this state, otherwise you will not control yourself, but it. You wrote that you have always been a cheerful person, and now, like a candle that has been blown out, in which there is no fire. Perhaps, for some time you will not be able to feel the desire to light your candle, give yourself time to be with your painful experiences, give yourself the opportunity to cry out the pain, speak your thoughts and feelings with loved ones, because they, too, like you, suffer inside, support each other. This may make sense for you now - to support yourself and loved ones. How to support yourself? It is important to give time and space to your feelings. If these thoughts and feelings completely overwhelm you, you lose control of your life. I suggest you use a few tricks to help yourself: nine0005

    1. Set aside a certain time for yourself, seclude yourself so that no one bothers you, set an alarm clock for 60 minutes, and all this time consciously immerse yourself in negative feelings, remember your brother, awaken feelings of sadness and sorrow, mourn him. Give yourself permission to cry or scream if you feel like it. As soon as the alarm rings, go wash your face and live a normal life. Do this practice every day, preferably at the same time for 2 weeks, then as needed. At the level of the mind, try to block the reasoning and memories of what happened, giving yourself the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in it at the appointed time. nine0005

    2. If at times there is a desire to communicate with your brother on a mental level, give yourself the opportunity to realize this desire. Take paper and pen, write him a letter. Yes, he will not read it, but this will help you not accumulate negative feelings inside yourself. Then do not re-read the letters, you can take him to the grave or destroy them after a while.

    3. In a situation of loss, it is the opportunity to communicate with people, work, study that can help you switch from pain to life. Do not give in to apathy. Ask yourself the question: "How can I support myself, what will help me feel different?" Respond to internal responses.

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