Methods. Using data from four waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), married respondents 60 and older in 1998 are followed over 6 years (n = 6853), and the number of depressive symptoms of married and widowed respondents is compared at follow-up. Depressive symptoms are measured using a short form of the Center of Epidemiological Studies Depression scale [CES-D(8)]. The baseline sample is 52.0% male, has a mean age of 69.9 years, and reports a mean number of depressive symptoms of 1.3 (range = 0-8) indicating a low level of depressive symptoms.
Results. During the study period, 992 respondents reported the death of their spouse, and 29.3% of the recently widowed respondents reported volunteering.
Bivariate results comparing the mean number of depressive symptoms of the recently widowed volunteers and nonvolunteers show a mean difference of 0.78 (T = 5.45 p < .001) with volunteers reporting fewer depressive symptoms. Multivariate analyses involving hierarchical stepwise multinomial logistic regression are used to estimate the moderating effect of volunteering on depressive symptoms with potential baseline confounding variables held constant. The results reveal a significant relationship between spousal loss, volunteering, and depressive symptoms.
Conclusions and Implications. The findings contribute to the literature on the value of social engagement for maintaining the health and well-being of the recently widowed. Active participation in the community through volunteer work is shown to assist older adults in maintaining good psychological health when facing a major life stressor of the death of a spouse. The findings have implications for social work practitioners, who could integrate these findings into psychoeducational programs for bereaved older adults. Social Workers could then provide willing clients with appropriate referrals for volunteer opportunities with community organizations. These findings can also help social workers and other advocates in promoting community support systems that assist older adults to maintain active roles in their community such as transportation systems, universal design, and public education about aging and ageism.