Trivedi Find articles by J. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Despite advances in standard of living of the population, the condition of widows and divorced women remains deplorable in society. The situation is worse in developing nations with their unique social, cultural and economic milieu, which at times ignores the basic human rights of this vulnerable section of society. A gap exists in life expectancies of men and women in both developing and developed nations.
This, coupled with greater remarriage rates in men, ensures that the number of widows continues to exceed that of widowers. Moreover, with women becoming more educated, economically independent and aware of their rights, divorce rates are increasing along with associated psychological ramifications. It has been concluded in various studies that such stressors could be harbingers of psychiatric illnesses e. A change in mindset of the society is required before these women get their rightful place, for which a strong will is needed in the minds of the people, and in law-governing bodies.
Psychological aspects, Widowhood, Divorce, Psychiatry, Depression, Anxiety, Substance dependence Introduction Despite rapid advances in the standard of living of people worldwide, the condition of a section of our population still remains deplorable, namely, that of widows and divorced women UN Division for the Advancement of Women, Death of the spouse, or separation legal or otherwise , appears to affect both the sexes in different ways and the psychological effect of these events is immense.
It can be said that no group is more affected by the sin of omission than are widows. They are painfully absent from the statistics of many developing countries, and they are rarely mentioned in the multitude of reports on women's poverty, development, health or human rights published in the last 25 years Ibid. With womenfolk becoming increasingly economically independent and more aware of their rights, there is a growing trend of refusal to continue in an abusive or unsatisfying marriage, and divorce rates too are on the increase Thara, Widowhood and its Psychological Aspects In many developing countries, the exact numbers of widows, their ages and other social and economic aspects of their lives are unknown.
However, in some countries and regions, their proportion is far higher. In developed countries, widowhood is experienced primarily by elderly women, while in developing countries it also affects younger women, many of them still rearing children Ibid. In some regions, girls become widows even before reaching adulthood.
Women are more likely than men to be widowed for two reasons. First, women live longer than men a fact highlighted by worldwide data regarding differences in life expectancies of men and women. In addition, women tend to marry older men, although this gap has been narrowing.
Because women live longer and marry older men, their odds of being widowed are much greater than men's Lee, Loss of spouse is one of the most negative life events, next only to the loss of a child Bennett et al. Ironically, the disorganization and trauma that follow the death of a spouse seem to be greater in women than in men whenever either looses their spouse Fasoranti et al.
Widowhood presents a myriad of economic, social and psychological problems, particularly in the first year or so after the death of the spouse. A major problem for both sexes is economic hardship. When the husband was the principal breadwinner, his widow is now deprived of his income and the nucleus of the family is destroyed Fasoranti et al.
Even a study conducted by Chen et al. Another problem associated with widowhood is loneliness. Many widows live by themselves. They suffer the fear of being alone and loss of self-esteem as women, in addition to the many practical problems related to living alone. They feel the loss of personal contact and human association; therefore, they tend to withdraw and become unresponsive Fasoranti et al. The greatest problem in widowhood is still emotional.
Even if it had been a bad marriage, the survivor feels the loss. The role of spouse is lost, social life changes from couple-oriented to association with other single people; and the widowed no longer have the day-in, day-out companionship of the other spouse that had become a intrinsic part of their lives. People respond differently to loss and overcome grief in their own time. Frequently, the most difficult time for new widows is after the funeral Scannell, Young widows often have no peer group.
Compared to older widows, they are generally less prepared emotionally and practically to cope with the loss. Widowhood often causes financial stress because a major income source is lost with the death of a husband. There has been considerable controversy as to whether widowhood is a more difficult experience psychologically for men or for women. Widowhood is generally a greater problem financially for women than men, and economic difficulties can lead to lower psychological well-being.
Other studies, however e. Still others have found no gender differences at all Li et al. Remarriage is the exception rather than the rule; only about 10 per cent of widows marry again. India is perhaps the only country where widowhood, in addition to being a personal status, exists as a social institution.
Indian society, similar to all patriarchal societies, confers social status on a woman through a man. Hence, in the absence of a man, she herself becomes a non-entity, ultimately suffering a social death.
Sati widow burning is the ultimate manifestation of this belief UN Division for the Advancement of Women, Widow remarriage may be forbidden in the higher castes; and remarriage, where permitted, may be restricted to a family member. Further, a widow, upon remarriage, may be required to relinquish custody of her children as well as any property rights she may have.
If she keeps her children with her, she may fear they would be ill-treated in a second marriage. Thousands of widows are disowned by their relatives and thrown out of their homes in the context of land and inheritance disputes. Their options, given a lack of education and training, are mostly limited to becoming exploited, unregulated, domestic labourers often as house slaves within the husband's family , or turning to begging or prostitution Bill I, The sexual and economic exploitation of widows, abandoned by their families to the temple sites such as Mathura, Varanasi and Tirupati, has been sensationally documented in the media Bruce, ; Damon, Thousands of India's widows live in abject poverty and degradation in these centers.
It is reported that in Vrindavan alone, an estimated 20, widows struggle to survive UN Division for the Advancement of Women, Younger widows are forced into prostitution, and older ones are left to beg and chant for alms from pilgrims and tourists.
Older widows may have lived the greater part of their lives in these temples, having been brought there as child widows many years before. The ordeals of the temple widows and the occasional sati are publicized in the international press. But, the day-to-day suffering of Indian widows, who are emotionally, physically and sexually abused by relatives, or who migrate to cities to live on the streets and beg, remains largely hidden Bruce, ; Damon, ; UN Division for the Advancement of Women, Widows, through poor nutrition, inadequate shelter, lack of access to health care and vulnerability to violence, are very likely to suffer not only physical ill health but stress and chronic depression as well UN Division for the Advancement of Women, Widows may be victims of rape.
This is further compounded by the fact that widows, in common with many women, are very often unaware of their rights, and encounter insuperable barriers to accessing justice systems, such as illiteracy, expenses and threats of violence Ibid. Psychiatric Aspects of Widowhood A large number of studies have been done focusing on the psychiatric aspects after death of the spouse.
Zisook and Shuchter and Niaz and Hassan concluded that depressive episodes were common after the death of a spouse. A high index of suspicion should be maintained by clinicians for the possibility of depression, particularly in cases of the young widows and widowers with such a history. Those who experience full depressive syndrome soon after the loss may better be considered to be suffering from depression than bereavement. It is hence very important that existence of such entities be kept in mind; and rather than viewing altered behaviour among the bereaved as socially or culturally acceptable, psychological aspects too should be considered.
The predisposition to develop anxiety as well as substance abuse disorders also increases Collins, ; Barrett, Divorce and Women Divorce rate the worldwide has been increasing steadily Wikipedia, As women become more independent financially, their acceptance levels come down in direct proportion to their financial stability Dobson, They become more vocal and are willing to sacrifice their family for the sake of independence.
Although it is not a good sign for the society as a whole, which has to depend on family structure, it is inevitable. However, it would be wrong to even hint that only women are responsible for this alarming trend. Many a times continuing in an abusive and unsatisfying marriage has had greater effect on the psyche of spouses and children rather than opting to be parted amicably or through court Goldstein, Several reasons have been cited for opting out of marriages these days—increasing violence, cruelty, character assassination, alcoholism, problems of adjustment especially in a joint family, growing individualism of the wrong type, extramarital affairs and the undesirable impact of the outside world in terms of falling values and lack of role models Thara, From a large number of potential life events, divorce has been rated as one of the most stressful, with a large general impact on the life situation of those who experience it Dohrenwend et al.
Empirical studies also repeatedly show that marital dissolution is associated with a number of social problems. For example, divorcees have smaller social networks and are more likely to lack social support Gahler, Also, they more often experience negative life events and physical and psychological ill-health.
Furthermore, divorced women are likely to be exposed to economic hardship Johnson and Wu, ; Lorenz et al. Women report more marital complaints and report them earlier than do men. It has been shown that men are more likely than women to remarry, and they do it quicker Bernhardt, ; Cherlin, ; Whitehead and Poenoe, Divorcees have been shown to exhibit substantially higher admission rates in psychiatric clinics and hospitals than individuals in intact couples, and they more often suffer from anxiety, depression, anger, feelings of incompetence, rejection and loneliness Gahler, ; Kendlar et al.
The divorced also exhibit a higher mortality risk, particularly behaviour-related mortality such as suicide, motor vehicle accidents and homicide; and they more often die from coronary disease and cirrhosis of the liver, a cause of death that is often a consequence of alcohol abuse Weitoft et al.
Although Booth and Amato and Lorenz et al. Furthermore, studies repeatedly show Daniels-Mohring and Berger, ; Rands ; Terhell, that divorcees, in addition to the lack of a partner, generally have smaller social networks i.
This is an important finding given that network size seems to be positively correlated with the emotional adjustment of divorcees Wilcox, ; Terhell, Divorce affects the well-being of women and men in different ways.
For example, men have higher incomes after divorce, which would predict lower levels of distress. Women's lives are also changed in other ways that may affect their psychological well-being in a more negative way; they have the main custody of children, if any, and are more likely to experience task overload Gahler, It has also been argued that women invest more in the family, take larger responsibility for the marriage, and therefore perceive divorce as a greater failure than do men Kurdek, ; Hung et al.
In contrast, others argue that traditional gender roles e. Women are also more likely to have access to social support outside the family, whereas men are more dependent on marriage for social support. Results from studies on gender differences in psychological health following divorce are, hence, far from conclusive. Although some studies have found that women's psychological well-being is more negatively affected by a divorce Kurdek, ; Siu-Kau, ; Williams and Dunne-Bryant, , others have found the opposite Gove, ; Lillard and Waite, ; Walker, , and yet others have found no gender differences Johnson and Wu, Thus, reviews often conclude that the empirical evidence on gender differences is inconclusive or inconsistent Kitson et al.
Simon notes that the conclusion depends on the indicators of mental health.