Mental stress from bereavement poses short-, long-term health risk
Individuals who experience mental stress from bereavement appear to have increased short- and long-term mortality, and this excess mortality risk further rises with the number of morbidity, a study reports.
Researchers followed 389,316 bereaved individuals for 17 years. The bereaved individuals were each matched with five reference individuals according to sex and date of birth. Prospectively recorded register data were collected for civil and vital status, 39 mental and physical diagnoses, and socioeconomic factors.
A total of 137,247 bereaved individuals died during follow-up. Compared with nonbereaved controls, bereaved individuals had higher all-cause mortality in the entire study period. Specifically, mortality was highest shortly after the loss (first month: adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 2.50; 95 percent CI, 2.37–2.63; 6–12 months: aHR, 1.38; 1.34–1.42).
The elevated mortality rate associated with bereavement increased with the number of physical diseases. The rates of excess death per 1,000 person-months for individuals with 0 vs ≥3 physical conditions during the first month after loss were 1.33 vs 7.00. This was exacerbated by the presence of mental illness.
Among bereaved individuals, excess mortality was mainly attributed to death from natural causes.
The present data suggest that mental stress from the loss of a spouse appears to have both short- and long-term health effects, which persist for more than 10 years, researchers said. Additional studies are needed to identify effective stress-reducing interventions, particularly those targeting individuals with multimorbidity.