Marital separation and contact with primary healthcare services for mental health problems: a register-based study

BMC Psychol. 2020 Nov 25;8(1):124. doi: 10.1186/s40359-020-00488-0.


Background: Marital separation is associated with mental health problems, but little is known about how this translates into healthcare use. In this study, we examine the relationship between marital separation and primary healthcare use for mental health problems.

Methods: We used data covering the period from 2005 to 2015 from the Norwegian Population Register, Statistics Norway's Educational Registration System and the Norwegian Health Economics Database. Data were analyzed using logistic regression analysis. To control for time invariant characteristics, we estimated fixed-effect models.

Results: Marital separation was associated with increased contact with primary healthcare services for mental health problems (MH-consultations). The prevalence of MH-consultations peaked during the year of marital separation. MH-consultations were more common following marital separation than prior to the separation. This pattern remained significant in the fixed-effect models.

Conclusions: Men and women who experienced marital separation were more likely to consult primary healthcare services for mental health problems than those who remained married. Our study suggests that several mechanisms are in play. The prevalence of MH-consultations of those who eventually separated were higher several years prior to the separation. This lends support to selection mechanisms, whereas the sharp rise in the prevalence of MH-consultations around the time of marital separation coupled to higher levels several years after separation, indicate that marital separation induces both transient stress and leads to more lasting strain.

Keywords: Health services; Marital separation; Marital status; Mental health; Primary healthcare; Registry data.

MeSH terms

  • Divorce / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Mental Health / standards*
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*