Long-term mental health of men who lose a wife to cancer—a population-based follow-up

Authors

  • Arna Hauksdóttir,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Clinical Cancer Epidemiology, Department of Oncology, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
    • Center of Public Health Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
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  • Unnur Valdimarsdóttir,

    1. Center of Public Health Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland
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  • Carl Johan Fürst,

    1. Division of Clinical Cancer Epidemiology, Department of Oncology–Pathology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
    2. Research and Development Unit, Stockholms Sjukhem Foundation, Stockholm, Sweden
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  • Gunnar Steineck

    1. Division of Clinical Cancer Epidemiology, Department of Oncology, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
    2. Division of Clinical Cancer Epidemiology, Department of Oncology–Pathology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
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Correspondence to: Center of Public Health Sciences, Stapi v Hringbraut, University of Iceland, Reykjavík, Iceland. E-mail: arnah@hi.is

Abstract

Objective

This study investigated the long-term risk of psychological morbidity for men after losing a wife to cancer. A further aim of the study was to investigate if being in a new relationship at the time of follow-up affects the risk of psychological morbidity.

Method

In a population-based cohort study, we collected data from 907 men in Sweden who lost a wife to cancer in the breast, ovary or colon 4–5 years earlier. A control group of 330 married men was also included.

Results

Six hundred ninety-one of the widowers (76%) and 262 of the controls (79%) answered a questionnaire. Widowers in a new relationship had a similar risk of psychological morbidity compared with a control group of married men. However, compared with widowers in a new relationship, single widowers reported increased risks of (among other symptoms) the following: depression (RR 2.2, confidence interval [CI] 1.5–3.2), anxiety (RR 1.6, CI 1.1–2.5) emotional numbness (RR 2.2, CI 1.7–2.8), and waking up at night with anxiety (RR 2.2, CI 1.4–3.7).

Conclusions

Men who lost a wife to cancer in Sweden in 2000 or 2001 and are single 4–5 years later have increased risks of psychological morbidity, both compared with widowers who are in a new relationship at the time of follow-up and with married men. Further scientific effort is needed for improved understanding of the most likely underlying mechanisms; that is, that enhanced emotional support of a new relationship after the loss of a wife protects against psychological morbidity, or alternatively, that the healthiest widowers enter a new relationship. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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