March 21, 2011

Sons of Divorce and Suicide

Our friends at the Men’s Health Forum Scotland are in the business of building very good and healthy men. That work just happens to be very good for boys. Their organization sponsors events (in Scotland, of course) and puts out regular e-bulletins on topics of interest to men. In a recent e-bulletin they directed men to the recent research report from the University of Toronto study showing how some boys are more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts if their parents divorce before the boy is eighteen. Apparently the issue is not as prevalent in girls.

The study, published online Jan. 19 in the Journal Psychiatry Research, found that boys of divorce are two to three times as likely to seriously consider taking their own lives as men whose parents were not divorced by that age. Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson, the study’s lead author and a professor of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto noted in most cases of divorce, until recently, it was the moms who got custody of the children. She felt that, “The loss of a male role model for the boys may seriously impact their well-being . . .” and the lack of regular contact with dad could have a negative emotional and developmental impact on sons.

Now please remember we're talking about THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE here. Divorced parents shouldn't get panicked about their sons. The good Dr. Fuller-Thomson allowed that serious thoughts of suicide affect only a small minority of children, and there are lots of other factors that can influence a kid's negative thinking. Most importantly, the vast majority of children of divorce do just fine.

I'm bringing this up because suicidal ideation is yet another negative consequence of boy socialization to be tough, don't show/have feelings (weakness), and certainly don't ask for help. It's also a good reason for boys to have contact with the divorced dad (if they are good for each other), and for the young man to have good and caring men in their lives as role models. Having an age appropriate conversation with dad or sharing their thinking and feelings around the divorce with other supportive adults will help protect boys from internalizing their emotions or keep them from living with irrational guilt and feelings of responsibility for the divorce.

You can read more about the details of this research in a recent New York Times Health Blog article, or read about how to help kids manage their feelings around divorce at

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