Impaired mental health among the bereaved spouses of cancer patients


Correspondence to: Graduate School of Clinical Psychology, Teikyo Heisei University, 2-51-4 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo 170–8445, Japan. E-mail: m.asai@thu.



Few cancer physicians routinely provide bereavement follow-up in clinical practice. The purpose of this study was to identify the prevalence of impaired mental health among the bereaved spouses over several years and explore the indicators for early detection of high-risk spouses during end-of life (EOL) care.


A cross-sectional mail survey was conducted for the bereaved spouses of patients who had died at the National Cancer Center Hospital of Japan. Bereaved spouses with potential psychiatric disorders were identified by the cut-off score of the 28-item General Health Questionnaire. Associated factors of potential psychiatric disorders were explored by logistic regression analysis.


A total of 821 spouses experiencing bereavement from 7 months to 7 years returned the questionnaires. Overall mean prevalence of potential psychiatric disorders was 44% (360/821). Bereaved spouses ‘under 55 years’ (71%) or ‘2 years after bereavement’ (59%) revealed a significantly higher prevalence (p < 0.01). Associated factors during EOL care were several characteristics such as ‘spouses’ history of psychiatric disorder (odds ratio (OR) = 3.19), ‘patients’ with stomach cancer (OR = 1.87), and ‘patients’ using psychiatric consultation services (OR = 1.52) as well as spouses’ dissatisfaction with EOL care such as ‘physicians’ treatment of physical symptoms’ (OR = 3.44) and ‘time spent communicating with patients’ (OR = 1.55).


Nearly half the bereaved spouses showed potential psychiatric disorders even 7 years after bereavement. Patients' psychological distress, spouses' history of psychiatric disorder, and dissatisfaction with EOL care were indicators of high-risk spouses. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.