Bereavement or breakup: Differences in networks of depression

Julian Burger*, Margaret S. Stroebe, Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, Henk A. W. Schut, Spahni Stefanie, Maarten C. Eisma, Eiko I. Fried

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Prior network analyses demonstrated that the death of a loved one potentially precedes specific depression symptoms, primarily loneliness, which in turn links to other depressive symptoms. In this study, we extend prior research by comparing depression symptom network structures following two types of marital disruption: bereavement versus separation.

Methods: We fitted two Gaussian Graphical Models to cross-sectional data from a Swiss survey of older persons (145 bereaved, 217 separated, and 362 married controls), and compared symptom levels across bereaved and separated individuals.

Results: Separated compared to widowed individuals were more likely to perceive an unfriendly environment and oneself as a failure. Both types of marital disruption were strongly linked to loneliness, from where different relations emerged to other depressive symptoms. Amongst others, loneliness had a stronger connection to perceiving oneself as a failure in separated compared to widowed individuals. Conversely, loneliness had a stronger connection to getting going in widowed individuals.

Limitations: Analyses are based on cross-sectional between-subjects data, and conclusions regarding dynamic processes on the within-subjects level remain putative. Further, some of the estimated parameters in the network exhibited overlapping confidence intervals and their order needs to be interpreted with care. Replications should thus aim for studies with multiple time points and larger samples.

Conclusions: The findings of this study add to a growing body of literature indicating that depressive symptom patterns depend on contextual factors. If replicated on the within-subjects level, such findings have implications for setting up patient-tailored treatment approaches in dependence of contextual factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date30-Jan-2020
Publication statusPublished - 15-Apr-2020


  • Depression
  • Divorce
  • Network analysis
  • Bereavement
  • Marital disruption

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