A large, nationally representative sample was used in a Canadian study to look for a link between parental divorce and suicidal ideation. The conclusion: even in the absence of other childhood stressors, men who had experienced parental divorce had twice the odds of having seriously considered suicide compared to men from intact families. When combined with other childhood stressors such as parental addiction, physical abuse, and parental unemployment, men were three times as likely to have seriously considered suicide.
In the absence of such other stressors, parental divorce was not seen to increase suicidal ideation in women. However, women who were minor children of divorced parents were 83% more likely to seriously consider divorce if the other stressors were present.
Esme Fuller-Thomson of the University of Toronto, lead author of the survey, cautioned:
These findings are not meant to panic divorced parents. Our data in no way suggest that children of divorce are destined to become suicidal [press release].
However, the study did suggest that the pathways linking parental divorce to suicidal ideation are different for men and women. The association between parental divorce and suicidal thoughts in men was unexpectedly strong. It was speculated that men might be more negatively impacted by parental divorce due to the absence of close contact with a father that may occur after a divorce.
The study, published this week in the journal Psychiatry Research, is available for purchase.
The study should be used to impress upon divorcing parents the need for continuing meaningful, regular contact between children and both parents, particularly boys with their fathers. Custodial parents should actively encourage close emotional relationships between the children and the “non-custodial” parent.