The Age

Marriage keeps you sane

By Carol Nader
September 18 2002
The Age

New research dispels the old myth that marriage improves men's mental health, but drives the women they marry crazy.

The report, to be released today, shows that women who are married, have children and who are in the workforce are the least likely to suffer mental disorders, while unmarried, childless, unemployed men are the most at risk.

David de Vaus, associate professor in sociology at La Trobe University and senior research adviser at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said the research showed that marriage, or having a partner, acted as a "protective device" to some extent because it meant greater support.

He said marriage often received a bad rap, especially in light of the rising divorce rate, and sometimes the positives were neglected.

The analysis is based on recently released figures from the 1997 Australian Bureau of Statistics' National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing of Adults, in which more than 10,000 people were interviewed.

It is the first comprehensive study of the link between relationships and mental health since the 1960s.

Research then suggested that marriage improved men's mental health but not that of their wives.

"The data that was collected then had enormous gaps in it, so you really couldn't conclude one way or the other," Professor de Vaus said.

The new report shows that married people are less likely to suffer mental disorders, that divorced or separated people are the most prone to mood and anxiety disorders, and that never-married adults are most susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse.

Regardless of marital status, women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer anxiety disorders, and men are twice as likely to suffer substance abuse.

People who already had mental health problems found it harder to get partners in the first place - or to stay partners - but having a partner or having children tended to stabilise people.

"The more anchors both men and women have, the better integrated they are, the better their mental health," Professor de Vaus said.

RMIT senior lecturer in social work and mental health Jenny Martin said mental health was affected by "basic human needs" and how well those needs were met.

Relationships Australia senior counsellor Rosalie Pattenden said the findings did not mean that all women who were working, had a young family and were married were actually doing well.

Copyright 2002 The Age Company Ltd.