The death of a spouse or partner can cause great anguish to the surviving partner, but the loss of a partner due to suicide can have a devastating impact. A new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) suggests that individuals who deal with the aftermath of a partner’s suicide are at a higher risk of physical ailments such as cancer, liver cirrhosis and spinal disc herniation, along with mental health conditions such as depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse than the general population. The risk of self-harm and suicide is also high.
The researchers also found long-term risks, such as sleep disorders and specifically in the case of women, chronic respiratory disease. The risk of physical and mental disorders increased significantly during the first five years after the partner’s suicide. They even suggested that situation is different if the partner’s death is caused due to sickness or an unexpected mishap.
Research findings are relevant in the context of increasing suicide rates in the US
The study appeared in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in March 2017 and is being considered as the first extensive analysis on the impact of spousal or partner death by suicide. Between 1980 and 2014, the researchers tracked 4,814 men and 10,793 women in Denmark who had lost a partner to suicide, and compared the results with Denmark’s general population. Data was sourced from Denmark’s Cause of Death Registry to identify everyone in the country aged 18 or older whose death was caused by suicide since 1970.
Compared to other reasons for death, men who lost a partner to suicide had 70 percent higher chances of developing mental health problems, and women mourning a partner’s loss due to suicide were twice at risk for mental health disorders. Partners mourning a partner’s suicide were more likely to seek mental health care and get hospitalized for psychiatric treatment. They were even more likely to avail higher medical leave assistance, disability pension funds and social services than the general population.
Holly C. Wilcox, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the JHSPH department of mental health, states that the relevance of the research is very high given the increasing suicide rates in the United States. There is limited awareness among medical service providers, social contacts, family and others on how to support individuals who have lost a partner to suicide.
Between 1999 and 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased by nearly 24 percent, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 people, with the rate of increase being higher since 2006. Suicide has been the tenth leading cause of death in America in 2015, and deaths due to suicide are approximately four times higher in men than women. Worldwide, more than 800,000 people die from suicides every year, and this rate is increasing in many countries.
Need for personal and professional interventions for surviving partners
The study shows that there is a sizable population which needs help and support. Lead researcher Annette Erlangsen, an adjunct professor in JHSPH Department of Mental Health, writes that losing a partner to suicide is stigmatized and usually not discussed easily. Wilcox adds that surviving spouses may remain secluded and friends and family may feel deterred from offering support for fear of saying something insensitive or wrong.
Eric Caine, co-director of the Center for the Study of Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center, states that besides grieving and feeling despair, surviving partners may also feel remorseful about not being able to prevent their spouse from dying. When two people have been married and one of them dies from suicide, the surviving partner will need care and support for several years thereafter.
It is vital to deal with the loss and one way of doing that is opening up to others about it. If you or a loved one is battling mental health disorders, contact the California Mental Health Helpline to learn about some of the best mental health treatment in California. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online with our representatives for information on mental health rehabilitation centers in California that offer a serene environment for complete recovery.