Sudden Loss of Loved One May Trigger Mental Disorder
There are many factors that can contribute to the development of a mental disorder. Family history, environmental influences and genetic causes all play a role, and each disorder is affected in different ways by these risk factors. In addition, life events can play a role. One of the most debilitating is the unexpected death of a loved one.
It would be difficult to argue that losing a loved one unexpectedly is anything less than traumatic, but the research now offers evidence that the experience may lead to a diagnosis of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health have released data showing that the risk of mania is doubled among those over the age of 30 who experience the sudden death of a loved one. The findings were true even for those patients who had no history of mental illness, say the researchers. The data was controlled for additional factors, such as additional traumatic experiences, a prior diagnosis of mental disorders and demographic variables, such as gender, race, income and education levels and marital status.
The risk was particularly pronounced among those between the ages of 50 and 70, say the researchers. Adults in this age group had more than five times the risk of a diagnosis of a mental disorder when compared to those that had not experienced the sudden death of a loved one. For those under the age of 30, there didn’t seem to be an association with mental disorders.
The risk of depression, heavy drinking and anxiety disorders, as well as PTSD and phobias were all increased by the loss of a close loved one.
The most significant association was found in PTSD, which reflected an increased risk among all age groups over 30. The risk was up to 30 times higher when compared with those who had not experienced the sudden death of a loved one. Among other types of disorders, there was a correlation between age and an increased number of diagnoses.
The researchers used data from 27,534 individuals enrolled in the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Twenty to 30 percent of those involved in the study reported the unexpected loss of a loved one as the most traumatic event they had experienced. Among participants who had experienced a number of other tragic events in their lives, 22 percent reported that losing a loved one was the most traumatic.
The researchers note that although exhibiting symptoms of a mental disorder for the first time as an elderly person is a rare occurrence, if it occurs it is often due to the loss of a loved one. The findings illustrate the importance of monitoring bereaved patients for mental health issues, says the principal investigator for the study, Katherine Keyes, Ph.D.