Women may have more difficulties with their mental health during a separation later in life than men, a new study examining antidepressant use has found.
Women may struggle with mental health more than men during a divorce or separation after the age of 50, according to new research.
The study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health compared the use of antidepressants among men and women during and after different types of separations, including death, divorce, or non-marital separation.
Researchers notably found that women had larger increases in antidepressant use than men before a divorce or break-up and that they had fewer reductions in drug use after getting together with someone else.
“Our findings suggest that the adverse mental health effects of divorce fall more heavily on women whereas the beneficial mental health effects of re-partnering are weaker among them,” said Niina Metsä-Simola, a lecturer at the University of Helsinki and co-first author of the study.
She added that it could be that women seek more help for mental health problems than men, with women taking antidepressants more often than men.
The researchers examined data on all permanent Finnish residents from 1996 to 2018 and included individuals who went through the end of a relationship due to losing a partner, divorce, or non-marital separation between 2000 and 2014 between the ages of 50 and 70. A total of more than 220,000 people were included in the sample.
They found that those who lost a partner were often older.
People who separated from a non-marital partner were more likely to find a new partner, while people who were divorced entered new relationships afterwards more than those who were bereaved.
One reason for the study was that finding a new relationship after a separation later in life is becoming more common as the population ages.
Overall, the researchers found that in the four years before the end of a relationship, antidepressant use increased for both genders and accelerated after the death, divorce, or break-up.
These separations after the age of 50 were associated with a 3 to 7 per cent increase in antidepressant use.
Those increases were larger in women before a divorce or break-up, with women having fewer reductions associated with re-partnering.
Why did separations appear to have a greater impact on women?
Divorce is assumed to have a “greater economic impact on women than men, and although we were able to take into account changes in income and home ownership, these may not fully capture changes in living conditions or economic hardship that may follow separation,” said Metsä-Simola.
“Furthermore, antidepressant use is in general more common among women than men, and women may thus be more likely to continue antidepressant use after the initial shock of separation has passed,” she added.
One limitation of the study is that they did not look at the number or duration of people’s relationships.
A 2018 study analysing 18,000 people in Germany found that there were similarities between women and men on the social outcomes after divorce, but that one key area where there were differences was “women’s disproportionate losses in household income and associated increases in their risk of poverty and single parenting”.
This latest study’s findings also are in line with the idea that living with a partner is more beneficial to men than women, the researchers said.
“Following the dissolution of a previous union, older men may be more likely than older women to seek emotional support from a new partner, whereas women may be more likely than men to take greater responsibility in managing relationships within the new blended families, [such as] with the new partner’s children, and related psychological strain may have a detrimental impact on their mental health,” said Metsä-Simola.