Background. Many studies have reported a negative impact
of divorce and separation on health
although it is still unclear to what extent this is due to early vulnerability,
the material and social
consequences of divorce or to its direct emotional effects.
Method. Measures of anxiety and depression and potential alcohol
abuse at age 43 were compared
in 2085 participants from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development
who were either
married and never divorced or separated, or who had divorced or separated
at least once. Analyses
were adjusted for sociodemographic features, early vulnerability factors
and current stressors.
Results. Divorce and separation were associated with increased
anxiety and depression, and
increased risk of alcohol abuse. This was the case after adjusting for
educational attainment, age
at first marriage, parental divorce, childhood aggression and neuroticism,
and current financial
hardship, lack of a confidante and frequency of social contact with
friends or family. The
association between divorce and risk of alcohol abuse became non-significant
when the latter
variable was controlled for. Associations between divorce and psychopathology
were observed even
though half of those separated or divorced were re-married or reunited
their spouses at the time
of the analysis. There was, furthermore, no association between these
mental health measures and time since first separation or divorce.
Conclusions. Divorce and separation have a specific and
long-term impact on mental health.