updated 1/8/2004 4:07:21 PM ET 2004-01-08T21:07:21

Heartbreak is harder on women, a British study shows.

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The end of a relationship has a bad effect on both women's and men's mental health. But the heartbreak lasts longer for women. And unlike men, starting a new relationship doesn't make it all better. This is especially true for women who've been through multiple breakups.

"Women's mental health did not seem to recover from their last partnership split, irrespective of the length of time since it occurred," write Michaela Benzeval, MSc, of the University of London in England, and colleagues in the January issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"The mental health of women became worse as the number or partnership splits rose or, similarly, as the number of partnership reformations increased," the researchers report. "The poorest mental health was among those women who had experienced multiple partnership splits."

The findings come from 2,137 men and 2,303 women under age 65 who, since 1991, have been taking part in the British Household Panel Survey. The survey uses a 12-item general health questionnaire designed to screen for psychological distress -- mainly depression and anxiety.

Enduring relationships were linked to good mental health in both women and men. Both sexes suffered from breakups. But other aspects of relationships and breakups had different effects on the different sexes.

Different findings for men
Men whose relationships endured had fine mental health. Those with just one breakup had problems that lasted for about five years. But the best mental health in the entire study was seen in men who had broken up more than once and formed two or more new partnerships.

Single women's mental health was just as good as that of married women. Single men, however, suffered poor mental health. Men who remained single after a breakup had the worst mental health of all.

But while women who married were better off than those who cohabited, the opposite was true of men. Cohabiting men had better mental health than married men.

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