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How does spousal suicide affect bereaved spouse mentally, physically?

The JAMA Network Journals

People bereaved by the suicide of a spouse were at increased risk for mental and physical disorders, suicidal behavior, death and adverse social events, according to a nationwide study based on registry data conducted in Denmark and published online by JAMA Psychiatry.

The study by Annette Erlangsen, Ph.D., of the Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health Centre, Copenhagen, and coauthors compared people bereaved by spousal suicide with the general population and people bereaved by spousal death of any other manner.

The study population included almost 3.5 million men (4,814 of whom were bereaved by spousal suicide) and more than 3.5 million women (10,793 of whom who were bereaved by spousal suicide).

Among the findings were:

  • Spouses bereaved by a partner's suicide had higher risk than the general population of developing mental health disorders within five years of the loss.
  • Spouses bereaved by a partner's suicide had elevated risk for developing physical disorders, such as cirrhosis and sleep disorders, which may be attributed to unhealthy coping styles, than the general population.
  • Spouses bereaved by a partner's suicide were more likely to use more sick leave benefits, disability pension funds and municipal support than the general population.
  • Compared with spouses bereaved by other manners of death for a partner, those bereaved by suicide had higher risks for developing mental health disorders, suicidal behaviors and death.

The authors note most people bereaved by suicide do not experience health complications. The study design also cannot establish causality.

"Bereavement following suicide constitutes a psychological stressor and remains a public health burden. ... More proactive outreach and linkage to support mechanisms is needed for people bereaved by spousal suicide to help them navigate their grief," the article concludes.

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(JAMA Psychiatry. Published online March 22, 2017. doi:10.1001/ jamapsychiatry.2017.0226; available pre-embargo at the For The Media website.)

Editor's Note: The article contains funding/support disclosures. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

Related material: The editorial, "Does Spousal Suicide Have a Measurable Adverse Effect on the Surviving Partner?" by Eric D. Caine, M.D., of the University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y., also is available on the For The Media website.

To place an electronic embedded link to this study in your story Link will be live at the embargo time: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.0226

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