Photo: Rice University
A new study from researchers at Rice University has found that bodily inflammation after the death of a spouse can predict future depression.
“Inflammation and future depressive symptoms among recently bereaved spouses” will appear in the June 2021 edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. Lead author Lydia Wu, a Rice psychology graduate student, and Christopher Fagundes, associate professor of psychology and principal investigator for the Biobehavioral Mechanisms Explaining Disparities (BMED) lab at Rice, led the study.
The research team evaluated 99 people who lost their spouses within 2-3 months of the study on a number of factors, including physical and mental health, across a three-month period.
“Prior research has already linked bodily inflammation to a host of health issues, including cancer, memory issues, heart problems, and depression,” Wu said.
“We were interested in how systemic inflammation affects the mental health of spouses after losing a loved one. In particular, can inflammation help us identify who will experience clinical levels of depression at a future point in time?”
The researchers found that widowed spouses who had higher levels of bodily inflammation right after the loss of their partners showed more severe symptoms of depression three months later than those with lower inflammation, especially if they didn’t experience significant depression initially.
Fagundes said depression following the death of a spouse is normal, and research shows that undergoing psychotherapy right away can actually interfere with people’s natural ability to cope.
“We know that most people are remarkably resilient,” he said.