Mental health problems at least double the risk of divorce

Being hospitalised for psychiatric reasons and using psychotropic medication are associated with an increased risk of divorce. The risk is at its highest immediately after being hospitalised or beginning pharmacotherapy, but remains elevated for more than two years. A recent University of Helsinki study indicates that close personal relationships should be given more attention in the treatment of mental health problems.

The study used register-based data to track nearly 100,000 married Finnish couples for six years. The researchers analysed how the wife and husband’s purchase of psychotropic medication and psychiatric hospital treatment correlated with the risk of divorce. The risk of divorce was more than doubled by the husband’s mental health problems, and nearly doubled by those of the wife, when compared to couples in which neither partner purchased psychopharmaceuticals or was hospitalised for psychiatric treatment.

“If both partners had mental health problems during the monitoring period, the risk of divorce tripled,” says Niina-Metsä Simola, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki.

The risk of divorce peaked immediately after the beginning of the in-patient treatment or the first purchase of drugs.

“This is likely to mainly reflect the mental health changes associated with the divorce process. However, the risk of divorce remained high for two years afterwards,” says Metsä-Simola.

Financial factors have little impact

Social and financial factors, such as income level and children living at home, had little impact on the association between mental health problems and the risk of divorce. This means that the increased risk of divorce associated with mental health problems is not attributable to the lack of financial resources.

“It’s more likely that mental health problems cause stress or put a strain on the relationship, which increases the likelihood of a divorce if the situation is prolonged. The treatment of mental disorders should pay more attention to the intimate personal relationships of the patient,” states Metsä-Simola.

The mental health of married people has already been found to be better than that of divorced people, based on several different indicators. However, the point of interest has typically been the changes in mental health relating to divorce. There has been little research on the impact of mental health problems on the risk of divorce, and most datasets only feature information on the individual, not both partners of the couple.

The study has been published in the Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology journal and is available online


Further information:

Niina Metsä-Simola

Tel. +358 40 515 8566