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Am J Psychiatry. 1991 Oct;148(10):1346-52.

Depression through the first year after the death of a spouse.

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  • 1University of California, Department of Psychiatry, San Diego.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

This study assesses the frequency of depressive syndromes during the first 13 months after the death of a spouse.

METHOD:

Men and women whose spouses had recently died were identified through death certificate records. These subjects completed a multidimensional questionnaire and were interviewed 7-8 weeks (2 months) after the death. Follow-up questionnaires were completed 7 and 13 months after the death. The questionnaires contained specific items corresponding to DSM-III-R criteria for depressive episodes as well as other widely used measures of depressive symptoms such as the Zung Depression Scale and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist.

RESULTS:

Eighty-four (24%) of 350 widows and widowers met criteria for depressive episodes at 2 months, 72 (23%) of 308 did so at 7 months, and 46 (16%) of 286 did so at 13 months. At each time period, the prevalence was substantially higher than the 4% rate of depressive episodes observed in a comparison group of 126 subjects whose spouses were still living. Widows and widowers most likely to meet criteria for depressive episodes 13 months after the bereavement were younger, had past histories of major depression, were still grieving 2 months after the loss, and met DSM-III-R criteria for depressive episodes 2 and/or 7 months after the death.

CONCLUSIONS:

Depressive episodes are common after the death of a spouse. Clinicians should maintain a high index of suspicion for the possibility of depression, particularly in young widows and widowers who have a past history of depression or who experience a full depressive syndrome soon after the loss.

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