Experiencing a break-up at any age is never easy.
But women may find it harder to adjust to a relationship breakdown or divorce in later life than men do, according to a new study.
A long-term study of people aged between 50 and 70 tracked antidepressant use among those who had gone through a relationship break-up, divorce or bereavement.
And while both sexes increased their antidepressant use in the run up to, and immediate aftermath of, each event, women’s use of these drugs was greater than men’s.
Due to an ageing population, ‘grey divorce’ from the age of 50 onwards is on the rise in high-income countries and, as a result, so is re-partnering, the researchers said.
Later-life depression is also relatively common, with up to 15 per cent of over-55s experiencing depressive symptoms.
A long-term study of people aged between 50 and 70 tracked antidepressant use among those who had gone through a relationship break-up, divorce or bereavement. And while both sexes increased their antidepressant use in the run up to, and immediate aftermath of, each event, women’s use of these drugs was greater than men’s
But few studies have looked at the impact of later-life divorce, relationship break-ups, bereavement or a new relationship on antidepressant use.
The team, from Chongqing Medical University in China, tracked the patterns of antidepressant use between 1996 and 2018 among 228,000 older people in Finland.
Overall 37 per cent were bereaved, a third were divorced and 30 per cent stopped living with a partner as a result of a break-up.
Analysis revealed that the probability of antidepressant use increased by 5.5 per cent in men and 7 per cent in women in the three months before and three months after a bereavement.
Antidepressant use also increased in the six months before divorce for both sexes – by 5 per cent in men and 7 per cent in women.
However, women experiencing a break-up significantly increased their use of antidepressants in the four years leading up to the event.
Men also upped their use of these drugs but to a much lesser extent – by just over 3 per cent compared with 6 per cent among the women.
Within a year, the use of antidepressants fell back to the level it was 12 months before the break-up for men.
But it was a different story for women as their used tailed off only slightly following the break-up, and then began to increase again from the first year onwards.
The study also found that 53,000 participants entered into a new relationship within two to three years of bereavement, divorce or a break-up.
Men were more likely to find a new partner than women, the researchers found.
Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the researchers said the findings ‘may indeed relate to the fact that the costs of union dissolution on mental health fall more heavily on women than men’.
‘Gender differences in family roles, responsibilities and economic status are often the explanations for the greater detrimental impacts of union dissolution on mental health observed in women than in men,’ they added.
It comes as separate research reveals women see their household income drop twice as much as men following a divorce.
A study, carried out by Legal & General Retail, found women see their household income fall by 41 per cent in the year following a divorce compared to 21 per cent for men.
Women are more likely to face financial struggle post-divorce, and have greater concerns about meeting essential costs, the research showed.