Mental Health

The Psychological Damage Divorce Has On Fathers

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

Originally Published: 
A divorced man sitting on the floor, upset, while his kids and packed boxes in an empty room are beh...

Ten divorced men commit suicide each day — a suicide rate at least three times higher than that of divorced women. Divorced men drink and smoke more often, they engage in riskier sex, and they’re 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.”

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

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% 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 immune system dip 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’re 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% 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% 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.

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.

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