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Loss: We’re tougher than we think

The Council on Contemporary Families released a fascinating report today that showed we all might be tougher than we think when it comes to handling trauma and loss.

The report "examined the effects of marriage, divorce, and bereavement on life satisfaction up to four years after the event. Unlike much previous research, (the) study followed a large representative sample of more than 16,000 people, assessing them yearly with questions about life events and overall life satisfaction."

"Following loss, most people report a modest, short-lived increase in distress that subsides within a few month,” writes Anthony D. Mancini of Pace University, author of the briefing paper titled “The trouble with averages: the impact of major life events and acute stress may not be what you think.”

Some highlights from the fascinating report:

  • Widowers and widows generally do OK.

    "The majority of grievers (59 percent) showed a remarkable degree of resilience, reporting stable levels of life satisfaction both before and after the loss. Contrary to the notion that older adults are especially vulnerable to loneliness and depression after bereavement, the members of the sample most likely to report stable levels of well-being were, in fact, the oldest."

  • Divorce doesn't destroy your life forever.

    "The pattern we would likely anticipate—a decline in life satisfaction following the divorce—was shown by just 19 percent of the participants. Almost 72 percent of the people whose marriages dissolved showed relatively high levels of life satisfaction before the divorce and experienced essentially no change after it. Perhaps most surprisingly, we found a small but significant proportion of people, almost 10 percent, who showed substantial increases in well-being afterwards. These findings provide a more balanced perspective on claims about the long-term negative effects of divorce, at least for adults."

  • Post-traumatic stress is not inevitable for military folks.

    "Contrary to the widespread assumption that PTSD is rife among returning military personnel, more than 80 percent of these soldiers displayed normal levels of functioning before and after deployment, and only about 7 percent showed substantially elevated symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder."

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Spokesman-Review features writer Rebecca Nappi, along with writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., discuss here issues facing aging boomers, seniors and those experiencing serious illness, dying, death and other forms of loss.