Divorce: The Forgotten Injury

Divorce has been shown to have a devastating effect on the health of people, especially children.  Why is this? And what can we do to improve the health and well-being of people going through divorce?       

Divorce has been shown to have a deleterious effect on the health of people. The short-term negative consequences of divorce on mental and physical health are already well known.  But in recent years the long term negative effects have also been examined, and the results are alarming.  According to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, people who have experienced divorce are 20% more likely to have heart disease, diabetes, cancer or another chronic condition and 23% more likely to have mobility problems.  For kids, divorce increases the likelihood of both alcohol and drug abuse as adults, and is the strongest predictor of suicide. Divorce is also strongly associated with diminished school performance at all grade levels. 


What is behind these links between physical and mental health problems caused by divorce? Researchers have previously discovered that stress causes the inflammation in the body, which is known to cause several negative health effects.  Recently, researchers at the Ohio State University discovered that chronic stress actually alters our genes such that our bodies begin to naturally form more inflammatory cells.   In a similar vein, researchers have discovered that childhood stress seems to cause genetic changes that make the children less able to cope with high levels of stress later in life. Excessive or prolonged exposure to stress can cause people to stay chronically upset, alert, and vigilant for danger.  These children will experience the world as physically and emotionally harmful, and more unpredictable than other children.  As a result, these children are at increased risks for poor coping skills, anxiety and aggression problems.

Since the 1970s our country has done a remarkable job of identifying and modifying unhealthy habits and activities. The process has usually involved exposing the unhealthy nature of a habit or activity through science and then, methodically promoting the modification of those activities or habits (i.e. smoking, drunk driving, etc..).  In each instance, the people in our community were actively helping to promote these changes, often via the personal influence of friends and family.  Imagine the uproar that would be caused if we just discovered that a certain food or activity caused such wide-ranging problems for millions of adults and children.  Yet somehow divorce evades the spotlight it deserves for damaging the health and well-being of people.  There are many reasons why, but the most obvious (and inexplicable) reason is that divorce isn’t commonly viewed as a health and well-being issue by the community. Even for those people who acknowledge that divorce is a health and well-being issue, they see no way to prevent those negative effects. 

I founded Cleland Collaborative Solutions with these problems in mind. I want to educate our community about the negative effects that divorce has on people and their children.  I also want to help people and families diminish or avoid these negative effects. Courts don’t cause the harmful effects of divorce, but from personal and professional experience, I know that Courts create an environment in which those negative consequences are exacerbated.   Consequently, I offer mediation and collaborative practice as methods of obtaining divorce without courts and combative attorneys. Both are proven methods of resolving divorces out of court while improving the post-divorce lives of people, parents and children alike.

Like campaigns against drunk driving or cigarettes, the success of our mission depends on our ability to engage the community in our cause.  When a couple is facing divorce, they will often need to rely on friends and family for advice and support.   If you become that friend or family member, encourage them to consider mediation and collaborative practice.  Learn more about mediation and collaborative practice on my website. We also offer free one hour consultations to people facing divorce to help them make a better decision about how to handle their divorce. Their very well-being may depend on it.

Categories: Other Musings