Divorce and the Psychological Damage Done to Fathers

Divorced men drink and smoke more often; they engage in riskier sex, and are more likely to avoid doctor visits and die of preventable diseases.

Ten divorced men commit suicide each day — a rate at least three times higher than that of divorced women. Divorced men drink and smoke more often; they engage in riskier sex, and are more likely to avoid doctor visits and die of preventable and treatable diseases. Divorce effects on men’s psychological and physical health can be summed up in a word: “bad.” If the man in question is a father, a better word would be “horrible.”

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Divorce and Kids

“The biggest psychological impact results from the loss of contact with a dad’s partner and kids,” Will Courtenay, psychologist and author of the book Dying To Be Men, told Fatherly. “In the absolute worst case scenario, this leads to severe depression and suicide.”

Dads may want to think twice before ending their marriages. Besides the negative effects that divorce can have on children, studies suggest that marriage is broadly protective for dads. Married men are healthier than their single and divorced counterparts — they’re more likely to have their skin examined for melanoma (because their wives point out their skin flaws) and more likely to get colonoscopies (because their wives force them to keep their appointments). The death rate for men who have never been married is 70 percent higher than men who have been married or who are currently married. Marriage isn’t perfect — studies have linked unhappy marriages to high blood pressure and the sort of dip in the immune system that can cause more cases of the flu, arthritis, and dental caries. But, in general, dads are way healthier in wedlock.

Perhaps due to feelings of isolation, divorced dads often quickly abandon caring for their personal health, Courtenay explains. They eat fewer fruits and vegetables, they are less careful about using protection during sex, and less cautious when driving their cars. They visit the doctor less often, and they don’t bother taking prescribed medications. Thirty percent of men who live alone haven’t seen a physician within the past year and 42 percent don’t have a regular physician.

Dean Tong, an advocate for parents who are falsely accused of child abuse, told Fatherly that divorce often causes “somatic issues such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, and vomiting” as well as “mental health issues such as nightmares, flashbacks, and PTSD.”

One of the most troubling realities of modern divorce for fathers is that it leads to suicide. Men who are not married account for 62 percent of all male suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One study in 2004 confirmed that divorced people have higher suicide rates than their married peers, and that divorced men are as much as eight times more likely to kill themselves than divorced women, overall.

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Augustine Kposowa, a sociologist at the University of California, Riverside and author of this study suggests that such high suicide rates are probably not solely due to loneliness. Instead, he writes, “societal institutions tend to ignore or minimize male problems, as evident in suicide statistics.” Kposowa argues that, after men lose their children in custody battles, they spiral into “resentment, bitterness, anxiety, and depression, reduced self-esteem, and a sense of ‘life not worth living’.”

There are no obvious solutions, but social support helps. Dads going through divorces should make every effort to surround themselves with friends and family, and see their children as often as possible. “Men have fewer friendships and smaller social networks than women do, which sometimes leaves them without anyone when they lose their partner and kids to divorce,” Courtenay says. “For the average guy, his wife and kids are his primary, and sometimes only, source of support.” Which means maintaining strong connections is crucial.