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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Study may link divorce to health ailments

UA researchers are conducting a new study that may show that divorce affects not only your daily life, but also your life span.

Researchers in the psychology department have been awarded a National Institutes of Health grant for $1.3 million to study how adults recover from marital separation and divorce.

“We are trying to shed new light on the differences between people who cope well and those who really struggle after a divorce,” said David Sbarra, an associate professor of psychology and the director of clinical training. “What are the people who are doing well doing?”

Psychology professor Richard Bootzin will lead the divorce study with Sbarra and Matthias Mehl, an associate psychology professor.

“Many people go through divorce and the stress is substantial,” Mehl said. “We want to find ways to alleviate this distress.”

The study will span a five-month period and will track three variables: how people feel about the divorce, their sleep methods afterward and their social environment and interactions.

Participants will wear an actigraph watch, which measures how much movement occurs at night, Sbarra said. Researchers will also assess their participants’ social environment using an Electronically Activated Recorder, a research tool developed by Mehl that periodically records snippets of participant’s daily lives.

“We want to find factors we can influence such as sleep and the social network, which I think is important because that way we can develop behavioral programs that help people deal with divorce-related stress,” Mehl said.

The recorder will also allow researchers to see how much the participant talks and spends time with other people, in addition to analyzing the quality of their interactions.

Mehl has expertise in studying the social environment, Sbarra in divorce adjustment and Bootzin in sleep, but they will work together collaboratively on the study.

“The most important thing is that this is truly a collaboration among all three of us,” Bootzin said. “We are all equal partners.”

Ultimately, the researchers will aim to understand how health problems are produced in individuals going through a divorce as well as seeing what produces resilience, Bootzin said.

“I think what this will do, assuming we are able to understand better, is help two individuals who are going through divorce of ways they don’t develop health problems,” he said. “This could be a set of guidelines that would help people deal with the stresses so they wouldn’t have negative health problems as a consequence.”

According to Sbarra, about 85 percent of people cope well after a divorce, and 10 to 15 percent of people tend to struggle. Because 2 million people are impacted by divorce each year, Sbarra said, this makes a relatively small number like 10 percent translate into a large number of people who are struggling.

“If you’re struggling with a separation, how can we tell you to think about your problem?” Sbarra asked. “We can’t tell you to change your personality, but is there something we can help you cultivate that will promote your well-being?”

The Tucson Divorce Study is open and actively recruiting participants. If you’ve experienced a marital separation in the past 5 months and are in generally good health, you’re likely eligible for this study. Learn more about the study at this link or by calling 520-792-6420.

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