Loneliness From Losing a Spouse Often Looks Like Depression


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)


    • Some psychologists and psychiatrists historically understood “feeling lonely” as depressive symptom (similar to, for instance,”feeling helpless”), which is why the symptom is featured in a number of rating scales for depression (such as the CES-D by Radloff and colleagues). So it’s common to refer to it as “symptom” in these fields.

      However, we make the point in the paper that loneliness is *NOT* a passive and interchangeable depression symptom (in fact it’s one of the main points).

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      • The medical profession has now labeled emotions and sane emotional responses as “mental illnesses”.

        People are now saying things like “he/she fell into “depression” when so and so passed away”. Depression is now a buzz word for being sick in the head and needing professional help. Professional help has now turned into pharmaceutical help.

        Don’t let an antidepressant user or psychiatrist see you crying/grieving for someone because they will tell you that you should get help (pharmaceutical) like them. They will say things like “antidepressants aren’t addicting” or “antidepressants correct chemical imbalances in the brain”.

        And the reason antidepressants make some people who have lost loved ones “feel better” is because antidepressants take away feelings of love.


        No longer feeling love for the lost loved one means no more sadness or grief for losing them. Antidepressants numb all emotions which make a person feel better by not feeling at all. No more cares for anyone, not even yourself. Antidepressants make a person more “confident” in social situations by taking away empathy. No more empathy means no more caring what others think of you.

        Antidepressants are chemical lobotomies and so are antipsychotics. Lobotomies were invented because doctors believed mental illnesses were caused by an “excess of emotions” and a lobotomy “dampened down emotions”. That “excess emotion” belief and treatment are still around today.

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    • Apparently the only “normal” people are highly functioning psychopaths who never get sad, lonely, anxious, depressed or display any other forms of emotionality.

      It is the mirror image of the society run by people who have no empathy, no compassion, no human instincts whatsoever. There has to be a revolution.

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  1. “Loneliness From Losing a Spouse Often Looks Like Depression”
    No sh*t Sherlock.

    When will we stop describing natural sadness or even despair after losing loved one in any way shape or form as “disease”? Depression is nothing else as understandable response to difficult or even tragic life circumstances.

    Our society has gone insane.

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    • My thoughts exactly! To think that anyone would have been paid money to study this question shows how far we have fallen. I consider this as sensible as saying that “Chronic loss of sleep leads to symptoms that appear very similar to exhaustion.” The authors can’t even see the stupidity of their own title.

      — Steve

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  2. Here’s another way how natural reactions to horrific abuse get labelled as mental illness – in case of infamous Guantanamo prison:


    “AMY GOODMAN: You write that Muhammed attempted suicide when he was separated from his father at Guantánamo. He cut his wrists?

    PARDISS KEBRIAEI: He did. That was just a few months after I came into his case. You know, he’s very—it’s very important for him not to characterize it as suicide, because it was a cry for help. It was an act of desperation. He wanted to live. It was, you know, an act that he did in despair. At that point, he had been held in solitary confinement for several years. And, you know, he was 17, 18, so was just completely traumatized. And his father had been moved close to him and then moved away. And at that point, you know, he just—he hit bottom, cut his wrists in his cell, as I say in the story, smeared his blood on the walls.

    AMY GOODMAN: And was tortured. They used his father against him—

    PARDISS KEBRIAEI: They used—

    AMY GOODMAN: —taking his father away from him?

    PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Yeah, he was—Abdul Nasser was moved close to him, you know, sometimes in the cell next to him, so they could yell through the wall to each other, and then moved apart when Muhammed didn’t cooperate, you know, in interrogations and didn’t speak out against his father.

    AMY GOODMAN: So what did—

    PARDISS KEBRIAEI: Just—and, you know, about the cutting, we filed an emergency motion in court to try to move Muhammed out of solitary confinement. The government responded and characterized it as a fingernail scratch and said that Muhammed had a personality disorder, had narcissistic traits and had cut his wrist to get attention.”

    Sounds like they practice the exact same kind of psychiatry in Guantanamo as in any other torture prison aka psychiatric hospital in the “free world”.

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    • Apparently even people who are being tortured are supposed to maintain between mild amusement and mild irritation or they are also mentally ill. A well-adjusted person would never be upset about being tortured. He’d realize he was a terrorist and know that he deserved it. Or maybe he’s a terrorist BECAUASE he has a mental disorder! THat explains it!

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  3. I just stumbled across this very nice summary of our paper, thanks for Mad In America for covering it.

    I am quite surprised by many of the reactions. We argue in the paper that bereavement is *not* a mental disorder (in most cases), quite contrary how our work is portrayed in the large majority of the comments above. We argue that it was likely a mistake that the DSM-5 got rid of the bereavement exclusion, and that many people are now misdiagnosed as depressed when they actually only have an absolutely normal response (grief / bereavement) to a terrible life event (spousal loss).

    “When will we stop describing natural sadness or even despair after losing loved one in any way shape or form as disease?”

    Yes, that’s an important point we make in the paper, actually, and has been an important reason for me to do this kind of work in the first place.

    Eiko Fried

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