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Late-Life Divorce May Be Mentally Tougher on Women Than Men
  • Posted February 7, 2024

Late-Life Divorce May Be Mentally Tougher on Women Than Men

Divorce later in life might be harder on women than on men, based on patterns of antidepressant use in a new study of people aged 50 or older.

Both sexes tended to increase their antidepressant use when going through a divorce, break-up or the death of a partner, researchers found.

But women's use of these drugs was greater than men's, results show.

Antidepressant use increased by 7% in women prior to a divorce and 6% before a break-up, compared to 5% and 3% for men, researchers found.

Within a year, antidepressant use went back to normal levels for men.

It was a different story for women, however.

Women's use tailed off only slightly immediately after the end of a relationship, and then increased again a year after and onward, results show.

“The greater increases in [antidepressant] use associated with union dissolution among women in our study may indeed relate to the fact that the costs of union dissolution on mental health fall more heavily on women than men,” wrote researchers led by Yaoyue Hu, an associate professor with the Chongqing Medical University School of Public Health in Chongqing, China.

This could have widespread repercussions around the world, researchers noted.

“Gray divorce” from the age 50 onward is becoming more frequent in high-income countries, researchers said. Later-life depression is also relatively common, affecting an estimated 10% to 15% of people aged 55 and older.

For this study, researchers tracked antidepressant use among nearly 229,000 Finnish residents between 1996 and 2018.

All were aged 50 to 70, and 33% had gone through a divorce, 30% a relationship break-up and 37% the death of their partner.

Nearly one in four (23%) re-partnered within two to three years, and small decreases in antidepressant use were associated with the launch of a new long-term relationship, researchers said.

But those decreases were short-lived, with use of the drugs returning to the same level or even increasing within two years.

The new study was published Feb. 6 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

“The smaller declines in [antidepressant] use associated with re-partnering in women than in men may be related to the explanations that marriage benefits men's mental health to a greater extent than women's, and older men are more likely than women to seek emotional support from re-partnering,” the researchers said in a journal news release. “In addition, women may take greater responsibilities to manage interpersonal relationships between the blended families, such as those with the partner's children, which could undermine their mental health.”

More information

The University of Michigan has more about depression and divorce.

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Feb. 6, 2024

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