Family Conflict and Suicide Rates Among Men
by Dr. Hazel McBride Ph.D. June 9-10, 1995
Violence and Abuse within the Family: The Neglected Issues
A public hearing sponsored by The Honourable Senator Anne C. Cools on June 9-10, 1995 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Transcript of Dr. Hazel McBride's presentation on the relationship between family conflict and suicide rates among men.
Dr. Hazel McBride, Child Psychologist, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Thank you very much. I am very pleased to be here, and to see all of the interest that we have in the issues. I am also please to hear all the very good speakers present. I wish to thank Senator Anne Cools and Karen Woudstra for this public hearing. It's an excellent idea.
I think that we also need to recognise the courage of fathers here, who have not allowed themselves to be separated from their children, against incredible odds, and I think that they deserve applause.
The major area of my research for my Ph.D. dissertation was in suicide, and depression. Over the last 5 years we have completed the largest study of completed suicide in North America. We are currently putting the data together to be published piece by piece.
Now, when we talk about depression, most of us have been depressed, but the illness of depression is different from feeling depressed. I think that it's important to understand the effects, of the kinds of events that people are describing today, and to know what the difference is.
There's an illness depression and there's a feeling of depression. The illness depression is severe. It is a physical illness. It can lead to suicide, it can lead to death, it can lead to people being totally disabled, not just for a little while, but for their complete life. It can lead to people being in psychiatric hospitals, and having a total breakdown. It has physical symptoms. People lose weight, they can't sleep, they become agitated, they worry. They can also have agitated depression where they have panic attacks, and as I have said, they often become suicidal, and they often complete suicide. Depression illness is to be at a high risk for suicide.
Now in reference to the gentleman who was talking earlier about suicide statistics from Stats Canada. The Stats Canada statistics are artificially low, because what happens is that when you get a suspected suicide to the coroner's office, often further testing needs to be done to see if indeed it was a suicide. So what happens is that it's categorized as undetermined, so it's often not counted as a suicide, and often omitted later. So Stats Canada data generally tends to underestimate suicide.
What we found when we looked at all the completed suicides in Ontario over a three year period is that we have the third highest rate of suicide in the entire world. This was the latest "who report".
- for the youngest between the ages of 15 and 30 - females attempt suicide more but males complete suicide more>
Completed suicides - In the under 15 age group, the ratio is 3 males to every female - between 16 and 21, it becomes 4 males to 1 female - by the age of 65, it becomes 17.5 males to 1 female. - with increased age, in each group, suicide increases, also the disparity between females and males increases. - Elderly males in our society are the ones most at risk and who get the least help.
We must note that not only does depression often end in suicide, but there are other very serious consequences as well.
There is a very interesting study, that came out of Harvard. It's a study that looked at why do some people live long lives and some people die young, taking out accidents and suicide, just looking at longevity. And they came out with one important factor. If you have good genes, your parents live long, you'll live long. But what was more interesting was the differences between the group who died young and those who lived to that age of 80 or 90. There were only three factors, and I think these are really important. At different age groups there were different factors studied over 50 years, now this study has run from 1920 until the present day, so when over the long term when they really looked at the factors, there were only three significant factors. One was smoking, the second was alcohol abuse, and the third one, was one episode of major depression before the age of 40. Now that is a new finding, and it is frightening, because with the stress and resulting depression that I have seen everyday, and I'm sure that many other people have as well, that is mainly created in the court system and government, custody and support enforcement agency and by legal bills. And all these things are driving people, particularly men, systematically into depressive breakdown and suicide attempts. And this isn't even looking at what it's doing to the children. The killing of the father is most certainly not in the best interests of the child. What is the effect on the child? It's something that we don't even look at, and we haven't even started. When do we start to deal with these long term effects on the children?
Now to move on to the children. I am looking at the effect of parental deprivation. That means a child being deprived of their parent. Now it's very difficult to look at this in Canada and the United States because we do not have the kind of database we need to collect the statistics. We don't know how many people got divorced, how many have separated. So it's very difficult, but in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, we have excellent databases where they track everything. So they can do these kinds of studies. The second factor is that it's only over the last 20 years that we have had an epidemic of divorce. So therefore we are now just seeing adult children of divorced parents in large numbers. Large enough in numbers that we can do studies and look at the results.
I am just going to quote here from a very reputable academic European study that has been published in very accurate detail. This study is on the long term effect of depriving a child of a parent. In Scandinavia, an examination of 1,018 parents of adult female twins, found that females separated from a parent prior to 17 years of age were at significant risk of major depression, and generalized anxiety disorder.
In Germany, research has found increased incidents of suicide attempts in patients who have experienced a loss in childhood, both by separation and death of parents. The increase in suicidal tendencies were mainly attributed to the loss of the father.
Another study in Scandinavia found that a significantly higher number of adults who attempted suicide had lost a parent through divorce in childhood. And in this particular study, they also looked at loss of parental contact.
Another study, from India this time. Indian researchers found that children who were separated from both parents, or from the father alone for a period of 3 months or longer (between the ages of 6 months to 5 years) suffered a higher risk by 2.5 to 5 times higher for hysteria, emotional disorder and conduct disorder, than children who were not separated from parents.
Another study, from Germany: Adults who were deprived of a father in childhood, due to separation or divorce, not death, had a significantly higher risk of suicide in adulthood.
From Great Britain: British researchers found that adults who suffered early parental loss due to separation or divorce, have significantly higher risk of developing agrophobia with panic attacks and panic disorders as adults. This can be a crippling condition.
Now just recently from North America, there was a study looking at suicide in the Termite Study. Now those of you who haven't heard of it, this was a study done in 1920 at Stanford University in California. It looked at gifted children. They took 1,000 gifted children and they are still tracking them today, this is one of the longest running studies in the history of the world I believe. It's been running now for over 75 years. The gifted children in this case had I.Q.'s of over 135 and are tracked over their life span.
While looking at this research, I came across a small study where they looked at who had committed suicide in this group. Out of the 560 females in this group, 8 had committed suicide. Now obviously there were many factors involved because suicide is not just the result of one thing, it's a great complex of factors working together. In one set of findings they found that in all eight cases, these women had experienced a loss of a relationship with their father.
Now in those days, there were not as many divorces, people often lived together by separate. We're looking back at the 1920's, 30's and 40's, so it's hard to tell, but what they did know because they had worked with these people throughout their life, was that, whether the father was there or not, there was no relationship with the father, and the children were overly bound to the mother. And this was found in all 8 cases.
It's hard to believe. It's something that judges just don't know and it's obviously something that the Supreme Court of Canada doesn't know, given it's recent decision in which it said "separation from the father has no long term effect on the child". I was aghast when I heard this. I found it quite appalling that they would not take the time to find out if there were any long term effects or that they would not have done just a little computer search, or even ask someone, rather that assuming this. and assuming it in such a way that it will affect the lives of thousands of children, not only now, but as adults.
Now to go to short term effects of parental deprivation. There are numerous studies on this. One of the better ones, Kergiac, did a very long term study in 1988. He found that in the first year after separation, non-custodial parental involvement was generally associated positively, with a good adjustment of children into divorcing families, especially for children whose parents were providing kind and loving support while experiencing conflict. Otherwise it was a protective factor. The parents were in conflict, having the other parents, not the custodial parents, involved helped the child. They found that seeing conflict was related to behaviour problems.
Children showed the most behaviour problems if their parents were in legal conflict and visitation of non-custodial parents was not frequent and, or regular. Children with frequent and regular visits showed the fewest behavioural problems. Regular visitation by the non-custodial parents the first year, led to higher self esteem in children later. I can see these are very important considerations. And even in the cases where you have parental alienation syndrome. To say okay, we have parental alienation syndrome in children who don't want to see the other parent, therefore we can't force it, is very wrong. What we're doing is we are *leaving the child with a disturbed individual*. An individual who is abusing the children by making those false allegations against their other parent.. In this manner, you are most obviously setting this child up for a life of psycho pathology. This is because the guilt is tremendous and to just leave it is not the end. Maybe you can't force the child to see the alienated parent, but you can put the children into counselling whereby you can eventually look at some way of repairing the damage done.
We cannot jsut allow these children to be left first of all, with a parent that is abusing them, although in Ontario it is politically correct to abuse them this way. Maybe this will change now that we have a new government, hopefully. But, however, it (parental alienation) is a form of child abuse non-the-less and it has to be stopped. And I won't go into this too much because we heard a lot about it and I can also say that I have come across so many of these cases. I think that the gentleman that was up earlier who talked so passionately about how he felt and what had happened to him, he is the norm.
(ed. note the following was spoken with much emphasis)
THIS IS NORMAL. THIS IS THE KIND OF THING THAT I HAVE SEEN DAY AFTER DAY AFTER DAY. I HAVE SEEN DEPRESSION, I'VE SEEN SUICIDE ATTEMPTS. I HAVE SEEN MANY INDIVIDUALS PSYCHOLOGICALLY BROKEN. IF THEY WERE DOING IT IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, WE WOULD CALL IT PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE, OR WE WOULD CALL IT INHUMANE TORTURE. HERE IN ONTARIO, IT'S POLITICALLY CORRECT TO COMMIT THIS CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY ON A WHOLESALE SCALE IN FAMILY COURTS THUS GIVING A VENEER OF LEGITIMACY TO UNSPEAKABLE HUMAN SUFFERING.
We know that the more ..fe stress you have, the more ..nitive of tragic events that happen to you, the more likely you will have a breakdown. And again I emphasise I am talking about a mental and physical illness, not just feeling blue. I'm talking about a long term serious and often terminal illness.
LET'S LOOK AT THESE NON-CUSTODIAL PARENTS, JUST FINANCIALLY, THE LEGAL FEES ARE $30,000, $50,000, $100,000 EVEN A MILLION. PEOPLE ARE BROKEN FINANCIALLY. THIS DOES NOT HELP THE CHILDREN. WHO ARE WE TRYING TO HELP HERE? THIS IS MONEY THAT SHOULD BE GOING TOWARDS THE CHILDREN.
Secondly, we have the unrealistic support awards. You heard a lot about that. Custody and access enforcement is something that needs to be investigated by a Royal Commission. Because we so often have a custody award that does not consider the well being of the children nor that of the non-custodial parent, I have numerous cases of people who have been absorbed into depressive breakdown, who have been injured or in car accidents, or heart attacks, or whatever, or have been laid off their job. The real crime is that these people cannot then make the payments that they're supposed to. There is no way to adjust it. When you call custody and support enforcement, they say " we just enforce, we don't care" and I have called them numerous times, and also the former attorney general who says "I'm sorry, I can't get involved". This is her answer. Another problem is unrealistic support awards. We have thousands of cases where the people can never go back to work, because if they do, the Family Support Plan will come and take their furniture, they will take their car, they will take whatever they have.
IT'S TERRIBLE. UNTIL I GOT INVOLVED, ABOUT A YEAR AGO, IN WORKING WITH THESES MEN, I COULD NOT BELIEVE THAT IN A DEMOCRACY CITIZENS, NOT CRIMINALS, COULD BE TREATED IN SUCH A MANNER AND BE STRIPPED OF THEIR RIGHTS. AND I FIND IT MORE FRIGHTENING BECAUSE IF WE DO IT TO ONE GROUP, IT COULD HAPPEN TO ALL OF US. ALL OF US CAN BE STRIPPED OF OUR RIGHTS, AND I THINK WE HAVE TO PUT A STOP TO IT *NOW*.
Now I talked about harassment. The problem is that there is no accountability for false allegations or support received by the custodial parent. I know of numerous cases and I'm sure other people do as well where the awards are going to the custodial parent and the children never get a cent of it. Some of these children are 25, 26, 27, 28 years old. We watched a program Friday night in about a young man in his mid 20's where the support that was awarded to his mother was 50% of his father's salary. His father lives in a basement one room apt. His mother kept all the money, never passed one cent of it to either of her sons, who had to go into debt to go into University and now she spends half the year in the Bahamas. This is something that we have to resolve.
THE LOSS OF CHILDREN, WHEN YOU TAKE A PERSON'S CHILD, THAT IS A LOSS, THAT IS A BEREAVEMENT OF A SIMILAR MAGNITUDE TO THE DEATH OF A CHILD. IT IS NOT SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE DONE LIGHTLY, AND IN OUR COURTS TODAY, IT IS BEING DONE, VERY, VERY LIGHTLY WITH ABSOLUTE IMPUNITY AND WITH NO REGARD FOR THE CONSEQUENCES TO THE CHILD NOW OR IN THE FUTURE, OR TO THE FATHER. WHAT GOOD IS THE FATHER TO A CHILD IF HE IS A BROKEN MAN. THEY KNOW HE CAN'T SUPPORT THE CHILD, HE CAN'T EMOTIONALLY BOND WITH THE CHILD. THE CHILD IS THE GREATEST LOSER ALL THE WAY THROUGH.
Now to the enforcement of court ordered access. We all know about this disgusting situation and it's a terrible, powerless feeling. In the United States there are states where denial of court ordered access is illegal and people are immediately arrested if they deny court ordered access. In Canada, or more specifically in Ontario nothing happens and there is a gentleman here who could probably speak on that. He went to court because he was denied access and it was only at the 18th time that the judge fined his wife $1. And he still has no access. I MIGHT ADD, THIS IS NOT JUSTICE.
From what I can see, in Family Law Courts it appears that there are no rules, regulations or proof of claim required. The Criminal Courts in which I testify far more often, there are rules of evidence and requirement of proof.
I had a case of false allegation last summer which is interesting. The mother has a long psychiatric history and has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. She is quite disturbed. The father had been attacked be her numerous times, this has been very well documented by the psychiatrist and we have the documentation, The son made false allegations, the father was arrested, taken to jail and had a lie detector test done. This was a man that had never had as much as a parking ticket in his life before. He was absolutely distressed by this. He was ill. He almost lost his job over it. Fortunately we had a very good police office who's name is Detective Wesley, who did an excellent job of investigating thoroughly and proved conclusively that it was a false allegation. Unfortunately, what happened was we had to charge the child with mischief, not the mother, Because the mother was smart enough to have the child make the accusation. The child was charged and then when we went for the custody hearing, the judge said "I don't thing this court thing is relevant, let's just ignore it" and he did. The child is still with the very disturbed mother. The father, for his own safety, had to move to the other end of the country. This was not solved in the family court and really needs to be addressed for the child's sake.
False accusations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Every time I get someone seeking help, I don't even have to read the affidavit. I can tell you what it's going to say. It's first going to start off saying they shouted and there was verbal abuse, and then they threw something and if that doesn't work, two months down the road we're going to get the "he hit me" and hence we we're going to get the stalking then we're going to get the harassment and then we are going to get the beating and sexual abuse and then some of them get even better.
In Family Court there doesn't seem to be any requirement of proof. The affidavits that come in and read the same, like fantasy from Dynasty. No one asks for proof and if they are shown to be untrue the judge will often just say they are irrelevant. In this particular case that I am speaking about, it started a year ago, with affidavits, like rehashed soap opera scripts, just as I previously described, but now we're getting amazing details that are very similar to the Bernardo case coming in. The lawyer called me and said, "I don't think I can read these". Now this sounds funny, but it's so tragic, these fantasy allegations are destroying a man and his family. This is so tragic and no-one, repeat no-one investigates. If people make these types of allegations in family court, the police should be immediately called in. The allegations should be investigated as a criminal matter. It should be stopped one way or another and the perpetrator charged. Unfortunately this is not happening in Ontario.
WE ALSO HAVE A LACK OF CONTROL OF HOW SUPPORT PAYMENTS SHOULD BE SPENT. IT'S PAY UP AND SHUT YOUR MOUTH. DON'T ASK. AND WE ALL KNOW THE STORY OF THE FATHER PAYING THE MONEY, THE CHILDREN NOT SEEING IT AND THE CHILDREN TURNING UP IN RAGS. THERE SHOULD BE ACCOUNTABILITY, WHETHER IT IS MALE OR FEMALE, IS YOU HAVE MONEY, YOU SHOULD BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THAT MONEY AND THE CHILDREN SHOULD GET IT.
The other thing is loss of all control of parental rights. These people are not bad people. These are people who have had bad marriages. This should not be a crime. You should be able to still look at the child's best interest. And these people instead have been treated as criminals, with one difference. They are not presumed innocent, but they are often presumed guilty. And that is very, very, wrong. PAUL BERNARDO HAS MANY, MANY MORE RIGHTS THAN THE FATHERS IN THIS ROOM.
Let me wrap up here very quickly. I am currently following a group of gentlemen with whom I am looking into the psychiatric sequel of these false allegations, denial of access, the back stabs and all of this kind of stress. What we are seeing is very high rates of clinical depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, mental breakdown, psychotic breakdown, reactive depression, suicide threats, suicide attempts, completed suicide and sometimes when you push a person too far, you get violence and you get murder/suicide.
Recently in the United States, there was a case of a young man who was very attached to his son, he had always been close to him. There was a custody dispute, he did get to see his son, but gradually the child had been alienated. Finally the ex-wife went to the Supreme Court and had the child's name changed so the child couldn't even have the father's name. The father had a breakdown, shot his son and himself. You can't push people to the point where the have nothing left to lose.
THE ULTIMATE SADNESS IS THAT WE KNOW WHAT WORKS, BUT WE WON'T DO IT. NOT THAT WE WON'T, BUT OUR GOVERNMENT WON'T DO IT.
We know all sorts of things that work, we know that joint custody works, we know support tied to access works, we know court ordered course in divorce and separation work and are very cheap to run. I just read a new article from The American Psychological Association paper this month, they say that in over 30 states where they have a video prepared by a specialist from Ohio State, that when parents go to court they first have to watch the tape and have divorce counselling, it works and the rate of conflict goes down dramatically when this happens. This is cheap for what the video costs, we could do it. Creative support, shared parenting and mandatory divorce counselling for all children. All children should be put into divorce counselling, court ordered so that they can withstand whatever is going on.
I would like to mention one more thing. On the Monday following the last time I spoke out like this, there was an investigator from the Attorney Generals Office checking on me. I may be arrested after this hearing. Last Friday I spoke out on CFRB and again the Attorney Generals Office was checking on me.
(Senator Anne Cools)"...a week is a long time." (referring to the election just prior to this hearing that caused a change in government)