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Study: Marital breakdown and subsequent depression

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The Daily

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
1994/1995 to 2004/2005

Men and women whose marriage has broken up have a higher risk of being depressed than people who remained with their spouse, according to a new study. However, men appear to take the separation harder.

The study, based on longitudinal data from the National Population Health Survey (NPHS), examined the association between marital dissolution and subsequent depression.

Both men and women had higher odds of having an episode of depression in the two years following the end of a marriage or common-law relationship, compared with people who stayed with their spouse.

The study determined that men who experienced a break-up were more at risk of depression than were women.

It also found that marital break-up was independently associated with depression. That is, while other factors that often accompany a break-up were associated with an increased risk of depression, they did not completely account for it.

These other factors included a change in household income, in social support, or in the number of children in the household. The association between marital break and depression persisted even when these events were taken into account.

The study found that most people who experienced depression in the post-relationship period were no longer depressed four years after the break-up. But for a sizeable minority, depression remained a problem.

Marital dissolution and depression

The NPHS, which began in 1994/1995, collects information about the health of Canadians every two years.

Since 1994/1995, an average of just over 4% of people aged 20 to 64 who had been married or living with a common-law partner at the time of their first interview were no longer in a relationship when they were re-interviewed two years later.

The survey found that 12% of people whose relationship had ended reported a new episode of depression. This compared with 3% among people who remained in a relationship.

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.

Women who had undergone a marital break-up were 3.5 times more likely to have had a bout of depression than were their counterparts who were still in a relationship.

Life changes disruptive

The end of a relationship brings other disruptive life changes, which, in themselves, might increase the risk of depression.

For example, financial difficulties often follow marital dissolution, particularly for women. In fact, 43% of women who went through a break-up had a substantial drop in their household income, compared with 15% of men.

Men and women who divorced or separated were more likely than those who remained in a relationship to report a decline in social support. Whereas 19% of men and 15% of women who were no longer with their spouse reported a drop in social support, the figures were 6% and 5% respectively for those who remained with a partner.

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. According to the analysis of NPHS data, 34% of men, compared with 3% of women, whose relationship ended experienced the departure of children from their household.

Marital breakdown independently associated with depression

However, even when taking these other factors into account, the end of a relationship was independently associated with the risk of depression among both sexes.

The odds of subsequent depression for men whose relationship ended were still 3.3 times higher than those of men who remained with their spouse. Among women, the odds of depression after a break-up were about 2.4 times higher.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3225.

The study "Marital breakdown and subsequent depression," which is part of today's Health Reports online release, is now available (82-003-XWE, free) from the Publications module of our website.

For more information about "Marital breakdown and subsequent depression", contact Michelle Rotermann (613-951-3166;, Health Analysis and Measurement Group.

Also released in Health Reports today is "Trends in weight change among Canadian adults," based on an earlier report published online November 6, 2006.

The complete version of the latest issue of Health Reports, Vol. 18, no. 2 (82-003-XWE, free) is now available from the Publications module or our website. A printed version is also available (82-003-XPE, $22/$63). It contains two other articles that appeared previously in the online edition: "Sodium consumption at all ages" and "Canadians' eating habits."

For more information about Health Reports, contact Christine Wright (613-951-1765;

A link to the two articles released today can also be found in the National Population Health Survey Internet publication, Healthy Today, Healthy Tomorrow? Findings from the National Population Health Survey, Vol. 2, no. 2 (82-618-MWE2007006, free), available from the Publications module of our website.

NPHS micro data are available at Statistics Canada's Research Data Centres. For more information, visit The Research Data Centres Program page of our website.

To order custom tabulations, contact Data Access and Information Services (613-951-1746;, Health Statistics Division.

For further information on the Household Component of the NPHS, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this survey, contact Mario Bédard (613-951-8933; or France Bilocq (613-951-6956;, Health Statistics Division.