OBJECTIVE: This study assesses the frequency of depressive syndromes
during the first 13 months after the death of a spouse. METHOD: Men and
women whose spouses had recently died were identified through death
certificate records. These subjects completed a multidimensional
questionnaire and were interviewed 7-8 weeks (2 months) after the death.
Follow-up questionnaires were completed 7 and 13 months after the death.
The questionnaires contained specific items corresponding to DSM-III-R
criteria for depressive episodes as well as other widely used measures of
depressive symptoms such as the Zung Depression Scale and the Hopkins
Symptom Checklist. RESULTS: Eighty-four (24%) of 350 widows and widowers
met criteria for depressive episodes at 2 months, 72 (23%) of 308 did so at
7 months, and 46 (16%) of 286 did so at 13 months. At each time period, the
prevalence was substantially higher than the 4% rate of depressive episodes
observed in a comparison group of 126 subjects whose spouses were still
living. Widows and widowers most likely to meet criteria for depressive
episodes 13 months after the bereavement were younger, had past histories
of major depression, were still grieving 2 months after the loss, and met
DSM-III-R criteria for depressive episodes 2 and/or 7 months after the
death. CONCLUSIONS: Depressive episodes are common after the death of a
spouse. Clinicians should maintain a high index of suspicion for the
possibility of depression, particularly in young widows and widowers who
have a past history of depression or who experience a full depressive
syndrome soon after the loss.