Nearly 2.5 million people die in the United States each year, leaving behind at least five bereaved people, devastated by the death. More than half of all American women, and approximately 10% of American men, will have been widowed at least once by age 65. Studies have found that the emotional recovery following the death of a spouse, close family member or friend seems to be substantially quicker among men than women, making women more vulnerable to a long-term depression following such a loss.
What is Bereavement?
Bereavement is considered to be how we react to a loss through death, with the primary psychological and emotional reaction to such a loss being grief. Mourning is an expression of bereavement and grief, and many people formalize mourning through their specific customs or religion. Funerals are a type of "custom," in that they offer the mourning family a specific social forum in which to exhibit their grief. Bereavement can turn into a much more complicated form of grief-also known as traumatic grief-which is typically diagnosed after at least six months have passed following the loss. The symptoms of traumatic grief can include anger and bitterness, painful emotions, an intense yearning for the deceased, avoidance of reminders of the death, or total disbelief concerning the death.
Women Grieve Longer?
Considering the loss of a loved one will likely be the most traumatic event in a person's life, it is no surprise that women in particular can suffer depression following this type of trauma. It is estimated that between 15 and 30% of all individuals, whether men or women, suffer significant depression in the first year following the death of a loved one, and that women in particular can suffer this debilitating depression for a longer period of time-up to three years following the death. Because women have a longer life expectancy than men, it is common for more women to experience widowhood than men, which contributes to the grief and loneliness in older women as opposed to older men.
The Stages of Grief:
Many of us have heard of the stages of grief; the first is considered to be numbness, which can last from a few hours to a few days-anxiety and depression may begin to set in during this stage. Depression, irritability and restlessness come next, lasting from a few weeks to a year, and finally, recovery begins, typically around four months following the loss of a loved one. During the final stage, the bereaved person manages to accept the death, and returns to at least some level of their level of day-to-day functioning. Although these stages are set out nicely, and sound reasonable enough, the truth is that few people who have lost someone dear to them follow the stages of grief so well-even after the stage where we are supposed to have accepted and moved on, we can find ourselves angry, sad and depressed, missing the loved one so intensely we feel it can never get better.
The Special Suffering of Widows
Many women who suffer the loss of a husband can have a litany of depression symptoms for a substantial period of time following the death, including crying, sleep problems, loss of appetite, restlessness, fatigue, poor memory, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. In the extreme, suicidal thoughts, severe feelings of worthlessness, continued functional impairment, or even hallucinations can occur as the grief and depression deepen. Poor physical or mental health before the bereavement can increase the possibility of severe depression occurring. While most people who experience the loss of a loved one will gradually recover, nearly 15% of bereaved women are still suffering significant depression one year after the loss. If you, or someone close to you is suffering severe depression symptoms following the loss of a loved one, consider getting professional help.