The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Nothing Left but Shards and Fragments

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

When young men no longer can fit the pieces of their life into a meaningful overall pattern, they often plunge into mental illness and self-destructive behavior. Just how sharply young men spiral downward when they lose their perception of meaningful life unity becomes troublingly evident in a new study by Finnish researchers from the University of Turku and the University of Tromso.

Scrutinizing data collected in 1999 from 2,314 young men born in Finland in 1981, the authors rely on a Scale of Coherence (SOC) developed by sociologist Aaron Antonvoksy in 1979. This scale, as the researchers explain, provides a measure of “the general orientation to life of an individual. It is believed to reflect the person’s perceived quality of life in the form of individual resources, and reflects self-esteem and perceived control over life events.”

Surveying data from the Finnish adolescents, the researchers limn some strong correlations. “Poor SOC,” they remark, “is strongly associated with a wide range of psychopathologies.” More specifically, they find that “low SOC is associated with both externalizing and internalizing problems.” Low SOC thus predicts “delinquency” and “aggressivity” on the one hand and “withdrawal” and “anxious-depressiveness” on the other. Poor SOC among these adolescents consequently appears “strongly” linked to “perceived mental health problems, use of mental health services, excessive alcohol consumption, regular smoking, and use of illegal drugs.” The data suggest that even suicide appears linked to a low sense of coherence.

Of course, not all young men are equally likely to lose their sense of coherence. “Long-standing stress and bereavement,” the researchers explain, “such as the severe illness or death of a parent, or divorce, were all associated with lower SOC.” Though some commentators treat parental divorce as a minor event in a young boy’s life, the authors identify it as a life event strongly linked—just like parental death—to a lastingly depressed sense of coherence (p<.001).

(T. Ristkari et al., “Life Events, Self-Reported Psychopathology and Sense of Coherence among Young Men: A Population-Based Study,” Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 62.6 [2008]: 464–71, emphasis added.)