New research has found that those who lose a partner to suicide are at a higher risk of both physical and mental disorders, highlighting the need for support systems for bereaved partners and others who’ve lost loved ones to suicide.
Carried out by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the study is believed to be the first large-scale examination of the broader impact of losing a partner to suicide.
The researchers followed 4,814 Danish men and 10,793 Danish women bereaved by partner suicide for up to 35 years, from 1980 to 2014, and compared them to the general population of Denmark and those who were bereaved but whose partners had not died via suicide.
The results showed that those who lost partners to suicide were at increased risk of cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and spinal disc herniation than the general population, and later on after a long-term follow-up, an increased risk of sleep disorders and, for women only, chronic respiratory disease.
Those bereaved by suicide also had an increased risk for mood disorders, PTSD, anxiety disorders, alcohol use disorder and self-harm compared to the general population.
The study found that these risks were even higher in the first five years after the loss, supporting findings from previous research.
The results underscores the need for support and interventions, which could help mitigate some of the effects of bereavement by spousal suicide, with study leader Annette Erlangsen commenting, “It is an exceedingly devastating experience when someone you love dearly dies suddenly by suicide.”
“Being exposed to such a stressful life event as the suicide of your partner holds higher risks for physical and mental disorders and is different from losing a partner from other causes of death, such as illness or sudden accident,” Erlangsen added.
Study author Holly C. Wilcox commented, “This is a population in need of support and outreach. Surviving a family member’s suicide is often a very isolating experience. Often, friends and family of the bereaved are afraid of saying the wrong thing so they don’t say anything at all. The stigma associated with suicide can lead survivors to suffer in silence alone.”
The researchers explained they chose to look at Denmark because it has such a rich data set, whereas the United States does not. However, they added that the findings are applicable to other countries.
The study can be found published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. JB