Bereavement Raises Health Risks
Death, Illness, and Emotional Distress Are More Likely After the Death of Spouse or Child
Dec. 7, 2007 -- The weeks and months after the death of a spouse or child
may be a particularly risky time for their loved ones.
So say Dutch experts who reviewed studies on bereavement (defined as
recently losing a significant person to death) in the U.S., Europe, Australia,
and other countries.
Their review shows that death, illness, and emotional distress are more
likely among the bereaved than among other people, especially in the first six
months of bereavement.
The higher death rate among the bereaved is "attributable in large part
to a so-called broken heart," write Utrecht University's Margaret Stroebe,
PhD, and colleagues.
Suicide, alcohol-related deaths, and heart disease deaths are among
the risks. Nonfatal illnesses also rise during bereavement, the review
Psychologically, bereavement is "a harrowing experience for most people,
one that causes considerable upset and disruption of everyday life,"
Stroebe's team writes.
"For most people the experience, though difficult, is tolerable and
abates with time," they write.
Each person's bereavement experience is unique. And while no one can replace
the person who has died, support from friends and family makes a difference,
note Stroebe and colleagues.
They observe that grief
is normal, but complicated grief -- an unusually long and/or intense grieving
period -- is rare but may call for professional counseling.
Of course, it never hurts to seek counseling for any problem. But many
people may get through bereavement without it, according to Stroebe's review,
published tomorrow in The Lancet.