This study examined mental health outcomes for widowed Tamil women in Sri Lanka to identify any associations between type of spousal loss and several outcomes, including internalized stigma as a result of widowhood, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and posttraumatic stress symptoms. A sample of 381 Tamil female widows living in Eastern Sri Lanka were surveyed in 2016 to understand their experiences in a post-disaster and post-war context. Type of spousal loss was separated into seven categories: war-related death, death as a result of tsunami, illness-related deaths, accidental death, suicide, disappearance, and other. Path analysis was used to assess whether type of spousal loss predicts variations in symptom outcomes, controlling for time they have been bereaved, number of children, social problems, and perceived sense of community. The Conservation of Resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll, 1989) was used to conceptualize how spousal loss is connected to distress symptoms and to explain the findings. Analysis revealed that the only types of spousal loss which associated with significant variation in symptom distress were spousal loss as a result of accident and "other" causes. Specifically, accidental causes of spousal death were associated with lower levels of depression, and "other" causes of death were associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety as compared to all other causes of death. In addition, the control variables of sense of community and social problems predicted significant variation in symptom distress such that higher levels of sense of community were associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress symptoms, and social problems were associated with higher levels of all measured types of mental health distress symptoms.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Marriage and Family Therapy



Date Submitted


Document Type





widow, spousal loss, Sri Lanka, natural disaster, tsunami, mental health, war