In a new study, researchers found that when men transition out of a Massachusetts divorce, they are at increased risk of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and suicide.
They found most men experienced the onset or worsening of mental illness symptoms during a distressed relationship or following the breakdown of a relationship.
The team found marital separation quadruples the risk of male suicide and suggests that distressed relationships, as well as separation and divorce, contribute to men’s mental health challenges.
In the study, they interviewed 47 men about their experiences with the breakdown of an intimate partner relationship.
When faced with conflict in their relationships, men tended to downplay issues, causing the relationship to fracture even further.
The study also found that men who were in distress following their breakup used substances, including alcohol, to cope with feelings such as anger, regret, sadness, shame, and guilt.
This is in addition to the immense uncertainty of what life could look like with less access to children, financial challenges, and the loss of social connections.
Complicating these findings is the isolation and disruption caused by COVID-19 public health restrictions, which can lead to increased alcohol and substance use at home, and exacerbate conflict, leading to worsening mental health.
On the positive side, the study revealed that following the breakdown of a relationship, men did engage a variety of resources to address their mental health needs.
In thinking about the implication for services, the team explained that while men tend to wait until a crisis happens before seeking help, they did invest considerable time and effort to move on from, as well as understand their role in the break-up.
Researchers need to re-conceptualize men’s mental health promotion as legitimately including self-help, informal resources, and male peer group services in addition to professional services.
The study is published in Social Science and Medicine—Qualitative Research in Health and was conducted by Dr. John Oliffe et al.
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