It’s a surprise to no one that dramatic spikes in personal anxiety, hopelessness, social unrest and confusion are related to increases in suicide rates. Scientific American recently reported that “news of suicides linked to the COVID-19 crisis have swept the globe and sadly show no signs of abating.” The large number of global deaths from the virus is catastrophic. It is tragedy on top of tragedy though to have that number rise higher by people taking their own lives in fits of hopelessness.

It forces us to ask, “What can help protect our neighbors against taking their own lives?”

The social scientists at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) have just released a report explaining how powerful marriage actually is at protecting against suicide. This has long been known in the academic literature reaching back over a hundred years. But it takes on new significance right now. Compared to their married peers, the divorced and separated, according to the National Longitudinal Mortality Study (NLMS), are 2 to 3 times more likely to commit suicide compared to their married peers.

While suicide rates have been increasing in general over the last few decades, they are increasing more dramatically for the divorced, separated, and single compared to both the married and widowed. That rate for the divorced is still markedly higher than for singles, from 1 to 1.5 times greater.


Image credit: Institute for Family Studies

There are certainly socio-economic factors at work here. The divorced tend to see a decline in their household incomes and face other significant life challenges after their marriages’ die. But the IFS reports there is a more direct connection,

It is not implausible, however, that there is also some causal relationship between marriage and lowered suicide risk. Married people are on average happier. They also, definitionally, have at least one person to whom they are robustly socially linked—meaning they are less likely to be lonely, among other positive outcomes. Divorce, by contrast, is linked to depression in at least some people.

Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family, is not surprised by such findings,

“Love is risky because it requires vulnerability. However, when we have someone in our lives that we know is there for the long-haul, through good times and tough, it helps us take that risk and open our heart. This research shows just how important this is today in the COVID age.”

What is more, if our nation’s marriage rate was what it was in 1999, 58.6 versus 54% today, that would equate to a three percent drop our current suicide rate, or a saving of 11,423 lives. Marriage makes a difference.

As the great wisdom of Ecclesiastes tell us,

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”


Additional Resources:

Hope Restored – Focus on the Family’s in depth intensive retreats for marriages on the brink.

Marriage Meditation: Love Bears All Things

FOF Marriage Podcast: Questions to Ask Your Spouse During Tough Times