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Researchers find unexpected benefit to divorce in other countries

For the most part, everyone reacts to the end of a marriage in his or her own way. No two people are alike when it comes to dealing with a divorce. According to new research published in the journal Lancet, American women may have more in common than we think -- or, at the very least, more in common with one another than we have with women from other countries.

While women in the U.S. often feel worse when marriages end, women in some Asian countries feel better after divorce. Divorce appears to be a psychological relief valve for many women in India and China, according to the study.

The research has a darker side, though. "Feeling better" after divorce is measured by the suicide rate. Indian and Chinese women are less likely to commit suicide after a divorce or the death of a spouse than they are during marriage.

The World Health Organization reported that India and China made up nearly half of the world's 900,000 estimated suicides in 2004. Suicide claims the lives of men and women in India at an alarming rate, with nearly 187,000 reported in 2010. It is the second leading cause of death in the subcontinent among young people, according to the country's Registrar General.

The study points out that the overall rate of suicide in those countries is higher for women who are more educated. The lead researcher suggests higher education among Indian and Chinese women may contribute to conflicted feelings about a "traditional value system." Other studies have noted that marital strife, domestic abuse, societal problems and depression were factors in suicides among Indian women.

Earlier suicide studies in China discovered that prior mental illness did not always accompany suicides, as is common among suicides and attempted suicides in wealthier countries. Low income, divorced individuals are at-risk for suicides in developed countries like the United States. These factors do not necessarily play a role for suicides in China or India.

It's hard to know what this says about our countries and our cultures. The data raises many more questions than it answers.

Source: Bloomberg News, "Divorce Lowers Risk of Suicide for Women in India and China," Makiko Kitamura, June 21, 2012

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