Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 52, Issue 10, pp 1217–1226 | Cite as

Long-term effects of mental disorders on marital outcomes in the National Comorbidity Survey ten-year follow-up

  • Ramin Mojtabai
  • Elizabeth A. Stuart
  • Irving Hwang
  • William W. Eaton
  • Nancy Sampson
  • Ronald C. Kessler
Original Paper



Epidemiological research has consistently shown an association between mental disorders and marital dissolution. However, this research mostly examined the association of divorce as a risk factor for mental illness. This study prospectively examined the associations of mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders with future marital dissolution and new marriages in a representative population sample.


The study used data from the National Comorbidity Survey panel study—a two-wave community epidemiological survey of 5001 participants interviewed in 1990–1992 and re-interviewed in 2001–2003. Mental disorders were ascertained with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview, a fully structured instrument. Associations of baseline lifetime disorders and disorders with onset after the baseline with subsequent divorce and marriage/remarriage were examined using discrete-time survival analysis models.


Mental disorders at baseline or with onset after baseline were associated with significantly greater odds of subsequent divorce among respondents who either were married at baseline or got married after baseline. Mental disorders with onset after baseline were associated with smaller odds of marriage or remarriage. Projections assuming causal effects of mental illness on marital outcomes suggest that preventing the effects of common mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders would be associated with 6.7 million fewer divorces and 3.5 million more marriages in the US population over an 11-year period.


Individuals with common mental disorders are at greater risk of marital dissolution and are less likely to enter new marriages. These factors contribute to the diminished social engagement and social support for individuals with these disorders. Interventions aimed at improving marital and family relationships could potentially ameliorate the effect of mental disorders on these vital social ties.


Mental disorders Divorce Marital status Social consequences Epidemiology 



The secondary analysis of the NCS/NCS-2 data reported here was supported by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (RM PI; Grant Number R01MH096826). The NCS data collection was also supported by NIMH (RCK PI; Grant Number R01MH46376), while NCS-2 data collection was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (RCK PI; Grant Number R01DA012058). The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and should not be construed to represent the views of any of the sponsoring organizations, agencies, or U.S. Government. A complete list of NCS and NCS-2 publications can be found at The NCS-2 is carried out in conjunction with the World Health Organization World Mental Health (WMH) Survey Initiative. We thank the staff of the WMH Data Collection and Data Analysis Coordination Centres for assistance with instrumentation, fieldwork, and consultation on data analysis. These activities were supported by the NIMH (R.C.K., Grant Number R01MH070884), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Pfizer Foundation, the US Public Health Service (R.C.K., Grant Numbers R13MH066849, R01MH069864, and R01DA016558), the Fogarty International Center (R.C.K., R03TW006481), the Pan American Health Organization, Eli Lilly and Company, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc., GlaxoSmithKline, and Bristol-Myers Squibb. A complete list of WMH publications can be found at

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Dr. Mojtabai has received research funding from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Lundbeck pharmaceuticals. In the past 12 months, Dr. Kessler has served as a consultant for Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. and the Johnson & Johnson Wellness and Prevention. Dr. Kessler has served on advisory boards for Mensante Corporation, Johnson & Johnson Services Inc., Lake Nona Life Project, and U.S. Preventive Medicine. Dr. Kessler owns a 25% share in DataStat, Inc. Other authors declare no potential conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

Original collection of NCS and NCS-2 data has been approved by the Institutional Review Board of Harvard University and performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. The analyses reported here have been approved by the Institutional Review Board of Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health. All persons interviewed for NCS and NCS-2 surveys gave their informed consent prior to their inclusion in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ramin Mojtabai
    • 1
  • Elizabeth A. Stuart
    • 1
  • Irving Hwang
    • 2
  • William W. Eaton
    • 1
  • Nancy Sampson
    • 2
  • Ronald C. Kessler
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Mental Health, Bloomberg School of Public HealthThe Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health Care PolicyHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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