Mental health of children most harmed before divorce

December 13, 2005

The most harm to a child's mental health takes place in the years before parents split up, according to a University of Alberta study that suggests staying together for the sake of the kids is not always the right choice.

"Perhaps we should pay more attention to what happens to kids in the period leading up to parental divorce rather than directing all our efforts to helping children after the event occurs," said Dr. Lisa Strohschein, from the U of A's Department of Sociology. "For example, levels of child antisocial behaviour actually drop following parental divorce for kids living in highly dysfunctional families." Her work is published in the current edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Nearly one in two divorces in Canada involves dependent children. This trend has lent urgency to the ongoing debate as to whether parental divorce is damaging to child mental health. Earlier studies have compared children whose parents are divorced with those in intact two-parent families but failed to take into account the quality of family life prior to divorce. Strohschein looked at divorce as a process, which enabled her to track its effects on child mental health before, during and after the divorce event. This approach allows researchers to separate effects on child mental health that are actually due to divorce and not due to other family characteristics.

Strohschein compared children whose parents divorce between 1994 and 1998 with kids whose parents remained married during that period. Statistics Canada launched the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth in 1994 and continues to reinterview the original cohort of children every two years. The sample is made up of almost 17000 children of ages 0-11, with 88.3 per cent of those children participating in the third cycle of data collection. Using that data, Strohschein found that differences in child mental health exist well before the divorce event. In other words, in 1994--before a divorce took place--kids whose parents eventually divorce displayed higher levels of anxiety/depression and antisocial behavior than kids whose parents stay married.

She also found that, compared to parents who remain married, parents who divorce tend to be younger at initial interview and report higher levels of family dysfunction and depression, and lower levels of marital satisfaction. These characteristics that put them at risk of divorce are also associated with child mental health. "Once these family characteristics were taken into account, differences in mental health at the initial interview between children whose parents divorced and children whose parents remained married can no longer be detected," said Strohschein. "This suggests that troubled families are at risk for both divorce and child mental health problems, and calls into question the assumption that it is the divorce event that is necessarily damaging to child mental health."

In addition to these pre-existing differences, there are changes in child mental health that occur after a divorce. On average, levels of child anxiety/depression increase following parental divorce. But in some highly dysfunctional families, the level of a child's antisocial behaviour drops after a divorce.

Adding one more cycle will allow researchers to track even more precisely how children adjust to parental divorce over time, says Strohschein, who has already begun to investigate this issue with a fourth wave of data.
Her research was funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada postdoctoral fellowship and the New Investigators Network of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

University of Alberta

Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to