A study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology has suggested that loneliness and its effects can too often be mistaken for depression in people whose spouses have died.
Researchers at KU Leuven in Belgium followed 515 married elderly men and women, of whom 241 eventually lost a spouse. They interviewed these people 6 months after their spouse had died, and compared them to a still-married control group. The researchers found that “loneliness” seemed to trigger a variety of symptoms that could look like depression in the people who’d lost spouses.
“This has implications for prevention and intervention in elderly bereaved people,” one of the researchers said in a press release. “Instead of targeting depression in general, specifically targeting key symptoms such as loneliness may prevent the activation of further symptoms in a person’s psychopathological network and prevent the development of a full-fledged depression.”
The researchers stated that they had extra concern about potential over-diagnosing of depression due to the fact that “the DSM-5 — the manual used by health professionals to diagnose mental disorders such as depression — removed the distinction between depression and bereavement in its newest version.”
Losing a spouse often too hastily linked to depression (KU Leuven press release on ScienceDaily, March 3, 2015)
Fried, Eiko I.; Bockting, Claudi; Arjadi, Retha; Borsboom, Denny; Amshoff, Maximilian; Cramer, Angélique O. J.; Epskamp, Sacha; Tuerlinckx, Francis; Carr, Deborah; Stroebe, Margaret. From Loss to Loneliness: The Relationship Between Bereavement and Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Mar 2 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. (Abstract)