Mental Health

Recent Divorce or Widowing Increases Suicide Risk: So Does Marriage

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Research has consistently shown that abrupt changes in our personal and social life can have a disruptive impact on emotional health.  While positive life changes such as marriage can aid in recovery, negative life changees can result in increased risk of breakdown and/or suicide.  In particular, abrupt changes in marital status have been associated with different levels of suicidal risk.

A study published in a recent issue of Crisis: The  Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention examined the effect of marital status change in relation to suicidal behavior.   The study used a sample of 1614 suicide victims who died in Slovenia between the years 2002 and 2004, and 4617 matched control who were compared for incidence and recency of marital status change during the last 5 years of their lives.

Results showed that a higher percentage of suicide victims (10.7%) had a marital status change in the last 5 years compared with the controls (5.6%). All types of marital status changes (becoming widowed, getting divorced, getting married) proved to be risk factors for suicidal behavior. Almost half of all marital status changes in suicide victims occurred in the year prior to suicide, whereas marital status changes in the control group were equally distributed over the last 5 years.

For recently married and divorced people, the increase in suicide risk depended on age: The risk was higher in older people. 

The authors conclude that marital status change represents a risk factor for suicidal behavior.  46% of suicide victims who had suffered the loss of a spouse committed suicide in the year after becoming widowed; and that 37% of suicide victims who had got divorced committed suicide in the year following the divorce.

Both events, becoming widowed and getting divorced, were probably preceded by other concurrent events such as illness (in the case of a spouse loss) or relationship and family problems (in the case of divorce), which could have facilitated the suicide process. The first year after the change is critical for elevated suicidal risk, in particular for older people.