The British Journal of Psychiatry
The Depression of Widowhood


A group of 109 randomly selected widows and widowers, average age 61, were evaluated one month after the deaths of their spouses. Thirty-five per cent of them had a collection of depressive symptoms similar to those common in psychiatric depressed patients.

The group of bereaved with the reactive depression was compared to bereaved with fewer depressive symptoms on 53 demographic, social and physical variables. Few differences were found, and most were related to the diagnosis of depression in the one group and not in the other. One social variable that showed a significant difference was that fewer of those with reactive depression had children in the area they considered close. Thus one means of support, emotional, physical or financial, was not available to them. As opposed to other differences, this difference of support might be thought of as a causative factor in the development of the depression.

Age, sex, previous treatment for a depression, family history of depression or alcoholism were not different in the two groups and therefore could not predict outcome. One incidental finding is noteworthy. Of the 109 women in the study, 81 per cent of the deceased and 47 per cent of the surviving women were housewives (p<.005). The women who died were not significantly older or unemployed because of illness.

Finally, from a group of durable marriages, 65 per cent of the conjugally bereaved experienced minimal depressive symptoms.