September 1, 1995

WASHINGTON - Divorced people are three times as likely to commit suicide than people who are married, according to a report released Thursday on the health consequences of marital disruption.

"Divorce now ranks as the No. 1 factor linked with suicide rates in the largest U.S. cities, outstripping other important social and economic predictors, says the report by the National Institute for Healthcare Research, a Rockville, Md.-based non-profit group.

A panel of experts assembled by the organization agreed that Americans have become too blase about marriage and divorce and are underinformed about the long-term effects of divorce.

"We don't think the public would (be so accepting) if they knew more about the clinical health problems associated with divorce, David Larson, president of NIHR and an author of the report, said at a press briefing.

Citing other studies, Susan Larson, a free-lance medical writer, said that for men divorce "can be as dangerous as smoking a pack or more of cigarettes a day.

Christine Nord, a University of Pennsylvania demographer, attributed the health consequences to extreme emotional stress and trauma and resultant changes in behavior and diet.

"Divorces disrupt one's regular routine, Nord said. "People become more vulnerable for a variety of reasons. Once you increase the conditions for mental health problems, you increase the conditions for physical health problems.

Among the report's other findings:

n Divorced men in 16 developed countries had much higher death rates than other men.

n Teen-age children of divorced parents are more likely to engage in substance abuse than adolescents from intact families.

n Divorced men are 10 times more likely and women five times more likely to experience psychiatric problems than others.

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