Why men who lose wives to cancer cope better if they meet new partner within five years

Grieving men who have lost their wives to cancer cope better mentally if they meet a new partner within five years, a study shows.

Researchers found that those who are single four or five years after the death are at a far greater risk of mental illness.

Previous work has shown that the relatives of cancer victims are at greater risk of dying themselves or developing mental or physical illness.


Pierce Brosnan met Keely Shaye Smith in 1994, four years after losing his first wife to cancer – but the pair didn't get married until 2001

But these studies have largley focused on widows and the short term risks, say researchers from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

They looked at long term data from 691 widowers and found that those who had met a new partner within five years had dealt with the loss relatively well.

But those who remained single were at far greater risk of developing depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and emotional blunting, and were also more likely to use sleeping pills and antidepressants.

Prof Gunnar Steineck said: 'Previous studies have shown that people who lose their partner are at greater short-term poor mental health.

'Our study is the first to show that the risk of poor mental health last for many years but, on the average, the risk is restricted to those who don’t find a new partner.'

'We need more research to understand the underlying mechanisms, but emotional support from a new partner does probably help to process grief and protect against mental illness.

'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.'