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Healthy today, healthy tomorrow? Findings from the National Population Health Survey

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Marital breakdown and subsequent depression

By Michelle Rotermann, Health Analysis and Measurement Group, Statistics Canada.

This analysis examines the relationship between the dissolution of a marital or cohabitating relationship and subsequent depression among Canadians aged 20 to 64.

The article is based on data from the household component of the National Population Health Survey (NPHS). This longitudinal survey is conducted by Statistics Canada and has followed the same group of people every two years since 1994/1995.

This article was released May 22 in Health Reports, Vol.18, No.2


This article examines associations between marital dissolution (legal or common-law) and subsequent depression among people aged 20 to 64.  Specifically, the analysis tests the hypothesis that two-year incident depression is more common among individuals who have recently experienced marital dissolution than among those who remained in a relationship.

Marital dissolution brings other disruptive life changes, which, in themselves, might be detrimental to mental health. Therefore, this analysis controls for several factors:  changes over a two-year period in household income, social support, presence and number of children in the household, and employment status.  Because depression tends to recur, history of depression was also taken into account.

The results from the NPHS support the hypothesis that marital dissolution is associated with subsequent depression, even when other events that often accompany a break-up were taken into account.

The NPHS data also show that men who experienced a break-up were more at risk of experiencing depression than were women.

The longer-term follow-up suggests that, for the majority, depression was isolated to the period immediately surrounding the break-up. Nonetheless, four years later, depression continued to be a problem for a sizable minority. 

Given the frequency of marital dissolution and its association with mental health problems, these findings are relevant to population health.