WEDNESDAY, Dec. 21, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Widowers who are still single a few years after their wife's death have a significantly increased chance of developing mental health disorders, according to a new study.
Researchers followed 691 Swedish widowers whose wives died of cancer and found that those who found a new partner within four to five years did relatively well in dealing with the loss of their wife.
But widowers who were still single after four to five years had a far higher risk of developing depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and emotional blunting. They were also more likely to use sleeping pills and antidepressants, said the researchers at the University of Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska Academy.
"Previous studies have shown that people who lose their partner are at greater short-term poor mental health," Professor Gunnar Steineck said in a university news release. "Our study is the first to show that the risk of poor mental health lasts for many years but, on the average, the risk is restricted to those who don't find a new partner."
The findings suggest that new love may help heal the pain caused by the loss of a spouse.
"We need more research to understand the underlying mechanisms, but yes, emotional support from a new partner does probably help to process grief and protect against mental illness," Steineck said. "But it could also be the case that those men who cope best with their loss are more likely to show an interest in finding a new partner."
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about mourning the death of a spouse.