Saturday, September 23, 2023

The Widowhood effect

Traditional wedding vows say “till death do us part,” but it looks like men have a tougher time when that time comes. Studies indicate that men experience more negative health outcomes when their wives die than women do when their husbands die.

Clinical psychologist in Gaborone, Bame Mophuting says: “The widowhood effect can impact both men and women, so it is not solely associated with one gender. It is relatively uncommon for younger people to experience the widowhood effect and usually people over the age of 50 are more likely to experience it. Studies suggest that men have a harder time dealing with the sudden loss of a spouse. This is usually because men rely heavily on their spouses to offer social support and interaction. Women rely less on their spouses for these social interactions. This typically means that it is more common for older men to experience being widowed in their lifetime than their women counterparts. The sudden loss means that men cannot prepare for the life that will come following the passing of their spouse. This can heavily impact their mental and physical health, sometimes leading to the widowhood effect.”

Widows and widowers have a higher mortality compared to married men and women. This association, known as the widowhood effect, is evident in all types of societies and among men and women of all ages.  Several different factors may contribute to the increase in mortality after spousal loss. For most people, the death of a spouse entails a period of immense grief, with an elevated risk of both mental and physical health problems. It also forces the surviving spouse to adjust to a different life by changing many of their everyday routines and learning to live without the love and support from their partner. While this is a source of stress in itself, it also complicates the recovery from the emotional shock from the loss. Accordingly, the death of a spouse is widely considered one of the most severe stressors in life.While shattering and stressful, spousal loss is also a natural human experience that inevitably happens in every marriage that lasts long enough. Even though divorces have become increasingly common in most industrialized countries over the last decades, most marriages still end with the death of one of the spouses. The widowhood effect is generally believed to be a problem primarily affecting closely bonded elderly couples. Gender and age are two of the most influential risk factors for the widowhood effect. People in their 60s are most likely to experience mortality linked to bereavement. Bereavement at a younger age – since it is more unusual to lose a spouse so young – creates added stress compred to later in life when it may be more anticipated.

Though it is well known that elderly men -around age 75 and above suffer more from spousal loss than elderly women, such an outcome is unexpected in younger people. Among younger men, an increased risk of death lingered for up to three years after losing a spouse rather than the one year seen in older age groups. Among men of all ages, increased mortality risk could be tied to the detrimental effects of loneliness in older age – one of the biggest risk factors for early death. A lot of these older men grew up during a time when men had certain ideas about what was appropriate and not to be masculine. Men tend to rely very heavily on their spouses, in heterosexual couples for their social needs to be met.Couples who shared close marital bonds are likely to die in short succession. Furthermore, being left to shoulder every household responsibility on their own also forced them into depression, which ultimately ended in death. The death of a spouse led to various mental, physical, and behavioral complications in an individual, which in turn heightened hospitalization rates and mortality hazards.Some other factors such as socioeconomic status of individuals, the amount of (in)formal care, as well as the pre-existing medical condition are factors that can also influence the widowhood effect.

Social Work Senior lecturer at the University of Botswana, Dr Poloko Ntshwarang says, “The bond between spouses can be quite strong and a level of co-dependency and companionship forms between the pair. Relieving on another individual for support and love can physically impact one’s health. Therefore, the loss of a spouse can often lead their counterpart to struggle with the physical implications of the widowhood effect. Women tend to face more serious impacts from the loss of their spouse after a prolonged battle with an illness or health complication. It is more common for older women to begin to develop anxiety after the loss of their spouse to a lengthy illness. The stressful health battle that their spouse faces can impact their ability to live on their own and feel comfortable in the world around them. Therefore, it is clear to see that both men and women can feel the impacts of the widowhood effect, however, the triggers for the health battle can differ between the genders.”


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