Increased Risk For Suicide Especially Among Non-Custodial Parents

Each year in Australia, more than 1000 men aged 25-44 take their lives (ABS 2000). The rate of suicide among these adult males is more than twice the teenage (15-19) suicide rate. The issue of male suicide in the middle-aged group was made more public following the suicide death in 2000 of a prominent Labor MP in his early forties, who had been suffering from depression following his marriage break-up. This tragic suicide shocked the Australian community, a community so accustomed to hearing that suicide was a youth issue. Why would a man, at his stage in life, take his own life?

While the male teenage suicide rate has been stable for the past decade, the rate for adult males has been rising since the 1970s. Most of them are casualties of family breakdown. A Queensland study of 4000 suicides found more than 70 per cent were associated with a relationship break-up (Baume 1994). The study conducted by Professor Pierre Baume, Head of the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University in Queensland showed men were nine times more likely to take their lives following a break-up than women.

Marriage breakdown is a significant characteristic of male suicide in the 24-39-age bracket. The anxiety and emotional pain of separation and divorce appear to effect men differently. Cantor & Slater (1995) research into male suicide in this age group revealed that males in the separation phase of a marriage break-up were most at risk of suicide, compared with widowed or divorced males.  Whilst these are only preliminary findings, they suggest that the severe disruption of separation and the high levels of interpersonal conflict that were associated with it, were perhaps the greatest contributing factor, along with separation from children. It seems highly likely that most of the suicide problems associated with separated men may relate to child contact problems (Cantor & Slater 1995).

Cantor & Slater (1995) show the risk of suicide is far higher for men in the period following marital separation––the suicide risk among separated men was 18 times that of separated women––but, after divorce, the rates for men declined to three times those of women. Separated men are also six times more likely to commit suicide than married men, with separated men under 29 being particularly vulnerable.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (2000).  Suicides, Australia 1921-1998. Catalogue No. 3309.0, Australian Bureau of Statistics: Canberra


Baume P (28th February-1st March, 1994). Developing A National Suicide Strategy For Australia. In Public Health Significance of Suicide: Prevention Strategies. Proceedings of The National Conference On Public Health: Significance of Suicide, Lakeside Hotel, Canberra.


Cantor C. H., & Slater P. J (1995). Marital Breakdown, Parenthood, and Suicide. Journal of Family Studies. 1(2): 91-102


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