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Wednesday March 15 3:22 PM ET

Divorce doubles suicide risk in men

By Michelle Beaulieu

NEW YORK, Mar 15 (Reuters Health) -- Divorced or separated men are more than twice as likely to commit suicide as men who remain married, a US researcher reports.

But divorce and separation do not appear to affect suicide risk in women, according to Dr. Augustine J. Kposowa, of the University of California at Riverside.

Kposowa examined the link between suicide and marital status using data on nearly 472,000 men and women included in the National Longitudinal Mortality study. Between 1979 and 1989, 545 of these individuals committed suicide.

``Men were nearly 4.8 times as likely to commit suicide as women,'' the researcher writes in the March 15th issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Whites were at greater risk of suicide than African Americans, and individuals with household incomes between $5,000 and $9,999 were more likely to commit suicide than others. Suicide rates were also higher in older age groups, especially those aged 65 and older, and in residents of Western states.

In addition, divorce or marital separation more than doubled the risk of suicide in men, whereas in women, marital status was unrelated to suicide.

Kposowa suspects that this difference is related to the social networks men and women form outside their marriages, which may be stronger or more meaningful in women than in men.

``Women have better ways of communicating,'' Kposowa told Reuters Health in an interview. ``They may have more social support networks, friends and relatives that they talk to, whereas men don't have social support networks.''

Primary care physicians should educate men about the risk of suicide following a divorce, and encourage them to seek counseling or group therapy, Kposowa added. Parents can also play an important role in addressing the divorce-suicide link in men, he believes. Raising boys to ``be themselves, talk about their problems'' and express their emotions can help reduce the cultural constraints on men to hold back their feelings, he suggested.

SOURCE: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2000;54:254-261.

Copyright © 2000 Reuters Limited.