Women who went through a breakup later in life were more likely than men to rely on antidepressants
When relationships end later in life, women’s antidepressant use tends to be higher than men’s, a new Finnish study found.
The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health last week, examined the “trajectories of antidepressant use before and after union dissolution and re-partnering in later life” using Finnish registry data. It looked at nearly 230,000 people who were 50 to 70 years old from 2000 to 2014.
Led by Yaoyue Hu, a Chongqing Medical University professor, researchers sought to understand more about the mental health impacts of divorce and remarriage later in life.
To do so, they looked at antidepressant use for four years before and four years after three different relationship situations: breakups (both non-marital separation and divorce), bereavement (a partner dying) and re-partnering.
Of the examined individuals, 32.8 percent were divorced, 37.2 percent were bereaved and 30 percent were separated and had stopped living together.
Researchers found that increases in antidepressant use associated with breakups were larger in women than in men.
In the four years leading up to a split, women significantly increased their antidepressant use compared to men, with nearly double the rate. (6 percent of women took antidepressants while only 3.2 percent of men did.)
And, after individuals re-partnered, they tended to reduce their antidepressant use, but the reductions were more brief among women than men, the study found.
Of those who not only split from but stopped living with their partners, large increases in antidepressant use in the four years leading up to the separation were observed in women.
In the same situation, men also took more of the medication, but it was a smaller increase.
Within a year of non-marital breakups, men’s antidepressant use declined to what it was a year before the split and stayed the same.
Women also experienced a decline in use of the medication, but it was “very small” and after a year post-split, their antidepressant use began to increase again.
Researchers also found that following bereavement and non-marital breakups, more men re-partnered than women, but when it came to re-partnering post-divorce, there was no significant gender difference.
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The study suggested that the greater increases in antidepressant use in women around the end of relationships may “relate to the fact that the costs of union dissolution on mental health fall more heavily on women than men.”
And, discussing the smaller declines in antidepressant use in women while re-partnering, the researchers suggested that men may reap more mental health benefits from marriage than women, so “older men are more likely than women to seek emotional support from re-partnering.”
The study also suggested that antidepressant use before and after separation may be influenced by other factors, including gender differences in familial responsibilities and economic disparities.
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