The Happiness Connection  

Marriage can keep you alive

The deaths of Kate Spade on Tuesday and Anthony Bourdain on Friday have refocused society’s attention on suicide.

My first memory of being touched by suicide was when I was 12. My friend Margaret went home from school for her lunch and didn’t come back for the afternoon. I didn’t see her again for many weeks.

Her parents worked, but she and her brother, who was 14, went home most days for their lunch. When she got home on this day, she saw her brother’s shoes by the door, but he didn’t seem to be there.

Believing if his shoes were there then he must be too, she searched the house for him. When she went into the basement, she found him hanging from a rafter.

Having two celebrities choose to end their lives only a few days apart has affected many people deeply. Why would two people who seem to have everything, make this decision?

News coverage reveals that these two had more in common than just the timing of their deaths.

Both were successful, both suffered from mental illness, both had daughters of similar ages, and both recently separated from their spouses.

Kate Spade and her husband had been separated for 10 months, and Anthony Bourdain and is ex-wife had been amicably divorced for about two years.

This final fact caught my attention – I write a column about marriage after all. Are married couples more, or less likely to commit suicide than those who separate or divorce?

With that thought in mind, I began searching for some Canadian statistics to shed light on the situation.

A Statistics Canada publication provided some interesting facts. It looked at marital status (single, married, divorced, widowed) and gender (male, female.)

In every category, men are more likely die through suicide than women. This is, however, a misleading fact. The Canadian Mental Health Association website states that women are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are three times more likely to die from suicide.

With that thought in mind, let’s see where married people fit in relation to being single, divorced, or widowed.

Let’s start with males.

Men who are married (legal or common-law) have the lowest suicide rate with eight per 100,000.

Single men top the list for males with more than three times as many suicides.

Being divorced or widowed comes in the middle of the two with about twice as many suicides as married men, but about half the rate of single men.

Being married is also the best marital status for women when it comes to suicide rates, with approximately two out of 100,000.

Widows are most likely to die at a rate more than eight times that of married women.

Numbers for women who are single or divorced come in the middle at over three times as likely as married females, and half as likely as widows.

This chart makes the comparison clearer.

The Statistics Canada publication also looked at the correlation between suicide and divorce rates between 1950 and 2008. The two have a startling similarity.

As the divorce rate goes up, so does the suicide rate; when it falls, so does suicide. Once again a chart paints the picture much more clearly.

This brings me to the question, why would marriage make you less likely to take your life.

I believe that regardless of how challenging you find your spouse, being married means you are part of a team. You have someone who’s experiencing life with you. If you have financial problems, you work on it together.

No matter what happens, you aren’t alone.

Please don’t think I am counselling everyone to stay married. Deciding to leave a marriage is a personal decision that I would never judge, but staying together has some advantages that shouldn’t be ignored.

I don’t feel I can leave this conversation without addressing one other commonality shared by Spade and Bourdain. They both had mental health issues.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association website, “up to 90 per cent of people who take their own lives are believed to have substance use problems or a mental illness such as depression or anxiety – whether diagnosed or not – at the time of their suicide.”

You may be viewing this information with relief because you are mentally healthy, but don’t get overly confident. Mental illness can strike at any time of your life.

Many people carry a genetic predisposition to depression, anxiety, or other disorders. The gene may never be activated, but then again it might. I experienced this first hand.

I felt blessed that in a family riddled with mood disorders, I had escaped. I was happy and optimistic – until my circumstances changed, my support network disappeared, and my sleeping genetic predisposition for depression roared into action.

Take steps to foster your mental wellness. Like physical health you shouldn’t take it for granted.

Staying with the same person for many years comes with challenges. Unless you are very lucky and chose a partner, who complements you perfectly, you are likely to struggle from time to time to keep your relationship strong.

This is not unusual, nor is it something to be ashamed of.

I’ve written before about the health benefits of being with a long-term partner when you reach your senior years, but these suicide statistics show an additional advantage of working hard to stay happy, connected, and with the person you chose to share your life with.

Interviews with people who have unsuccessfully attempted suicide show that they didn’t want to die, they just didn’t want to live.

Perhaps the companionship, history, and support that marriage offers, gives people a reason to want to live.

It’s something to think about.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories