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This Is What Divorce Does to Your Physical and Mental Health

New research reveals the class divide that separates those who suffer and those who come out on top

It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that an event defined primarily by the dissolution of what one anticipated to be a lifetime of love and commitment can be pretty freaking depressing. For most people, as amicable as a divorce could be, there are still gonna be some nasty feelings one has to work through that can impact mental and physical health. Now, though, we have a bit more quantitative data to understand precisely how and why divorce has these effects. 

According to a study from the University of Copenhagen published in Frontiers in Psychology in November, divorce can produce various mental and physical side effects depending upon gender, socioeconomic status and previous life experiences. Researchers surveyed 1,856 recent Danish divorcees about their background, health and the conditions of their divorce. Compared to the general population, they found that both men and women reported worse mental health, emotional capacity, social functioning and sense of general health and vitality. Oddly enough, though, divorcees reported “better physical functioning” and lower levels of bodily pain. 

Further, each of these conditions varied along socioeconomic lines and other demographic factors. Higher income men and women fared better physically, as did younger participants. Those with children, new partners and those who had already experienced prior divorces handled things better mentally. The most significant factor in the mental and physical health of divorcees, though, was conflict. Independent of all other variables, those who reported significant conflict with their former partner and throughout the divorce proceedings experienced worse declines in mental and physical health than others. 

Notably, though, all of those surveyed were granted swift divorces that had only been completed weeks prior, without any periods of separation before the divorce. In Denmark, divorces can be granted and processed almost immediately if both parties agree to it, while any disagreement leads to a six-month separation period. As such, unlike previous studies on divorce and health, this study from the University of Copenhagen was able to measure the effects of divorce in the months immediately following it. 

For those who have experienced a divorce, such results probably aren’t too revelatory. But what the data proves is that there is indeed some uniformity to these experiences according to various life circumstances. More than that, though, these changes to the mind and body can occur almost immediately upon the divorce being finalized. It’s also further evidence that, as with most problems, it helps to be young and wealthy.