- Because of disease, industrialization, and regional conflicts, young widowhood is an expanding phenomenon in many parts of the world. Young widows face many challenges that can lead to mental health problems. The young widows have to make adjustments to fit their new roles as bread winners of the families, having to play both parental roles and also other roles required by extended family members and the community. In this dissertation, young widows are defined as women under the age of 46 whose husbands died suddenly, or after a protracted illness. These survivors are at a greater risk of psychiatric and mental health issues. Such mental health conditions experienced by surviving spouses include, but are not limited to, PTSD, depression, and anxiety. These issues can in turn cause a prolonged period of grief or even complicate existing grief level. The grieving process is usually characterized by stages of denial, resistance, sorrow, and acceptance.
The country of Cameroon has not been immune from this deleterious expansion of young widowhood. Although the experiences of widowhood have been documented, to date relatively little research about widows in Cameroon has been
accomplished. As such, little information is available regarding the experiences of widows in Cameroon. This knowledge gap leaves young widows in this country vulnerable to structural forces that can exacerbate mental health issues. As such, a study was undertaken to look at two psychological sequela of young widowhood. This study examined these sequelae through the lense of the experiences of young widowhood in one tribe. Specifically, the Banso (i.e., the Nso of the Bamenda Grassfields in the Northwest Region of Cameroon). The two psychological sequela were: (1) post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and (2) grieving style.
In order to document the participants’ PTSD and grieving patterns, a cross-sectional, observational study was conducted. The PTSD Diagnostic Scale (PDS) was used to provide a brief but reliable self-report measure of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among study participants. Although the PDS has four parts, only Part 3 was used for this study. This part is a 17-question survey listing problem areas related to experiences of very stressful and traumatic experiences. The validated Grief Pattern Inventory (GPI) was used to determine the grieving styles of the study participants. Participants included 51 widows from ages 18 to 46 years, residing in a small commune in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. These widows were part of a widows’ self-help group that meets once a month.
Findings indicated that 72% of the target population met established criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. The results of the current study also show that 55% of the young Banso widows’ grieving styles were intuitive and 39% was blended. These findings have counseling, treatment, policy, social justice, and research implications. The current study presented some of the first details on two psychological sequela of young widowhood in an African setting. Three implications emerged from these details. First, the prevalence results point to need for advocacy for mental health awareness. Second, the diversity of grief styles encountered suggests the need for further grief education amongst both lay people and health professionals. Third, the presence of varying grief styles advances the idea that treatments specifically tailored to the different styles requires development.
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