Antidepressant use higher for women around breakups than men, Study

Antidepressant use higher for women around breakups than men, Study
12.02.2024

Women may find it harder to adjust to relationship splits later in life, according to Danish study, with men more likely to re-partner.

Women are more likely to use antidepressants following the breakdown of a relationship compared with men later in life, researchers have found.

The observational study, funded by the European Research Council and Academy of Finland, looked at 228,644 Finnish residents aged 50 to 70 between 1996 and 2018, who had all experienced a relationship breakup, divorce or bereavement between 2000 and 2014.

Of the group, 33% were divorced and 30% had broken up with their partner and moved out, while 37% were bereaved following their partner’s death.

The study, led by Prof Yaoyue Hu of Chongqing Medical University, found that women experiencing a breakup significantly increased their use of antidepressants in the four years running up to the event compared with men, with 6% taking antidepressants compared with 3.2% men.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, and peer reviewed, also found that antidepressant use increased for both men and women in the six months leading up to divorce, by 5% in men and 7% in women. The usage stabilised after one year, although it remained higher for both than prior to the divorce.

The researchers said the patterns observed regarding antidepressant use may indicate that women find it harder to emotionally adjust to divorce or a relationship breakup in later life compared with men.

Other factors that could be attributed to the disproportionate use of antidepressants could be gender differences in family roles, responsibilities and economic status.

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The study also found that more men re-partnered after bereavement or a relationship breakup than women, while there was no gender difference with those who had got divorced.

“The greater increases in [antidepressant] use associated with union dissolution among women in our study may indeed relate to the fact that the costs of union dissolution on mental health fall more heavily on women than men,” the study said.

The researchers added: “The smaller declines in [antidepressant] use associated with re-partnering in women than in men may be related to the explanations that marriage benefits men’s mental health to a greater extent than women’s, and older men are more likely than women to seek emotional support from re-partnering.”

The study found that grey divorce – at age 50 and older – is rising in high-income countries, due to ageing populations.

Gavin Scott, family law partner at UK law firm Freeths, said the figures were “unsurprising”.

He said: “In most divorces, it is still the case that wives are in a weaker financial position than their husbands, having stepped back from developing their career to be the primary carer of the children.

“Facing the uncertainty of their financial position after a divorce can be a huge mental weight, and add that to the anticipation of divorcing, which can be an extremely distressing process, no wonder the use of antidepressants increases.

“We often see marriages that have broken down, yet the parties continue to live together in very unpleasant atmospheres, which only adds to the strain on mental health as well as the emotional welfare of children in that situation.”

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