Losing a spouse can be a devastating experience for anyone. A new study found that the experience of a spouse’s death due to COVID-19 may be worse for mental health than deaths from other causes.
Researchers at Penn State found that there was a strong association between a recent death of a spouse and poor mental health before and during the pandemic, but comparable people who lost their spouse to COVID-19. were more likely to report symptoms of depression and loneliness in comparison. whose spouse had died just before the pandemic began.
Ashton Verdry, Harry and Alyssa Schiele, an early career professor of sociology, demography and social data analytics at Penn State, said the study underscores the health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, even for those who have not been infected with the virus. ,
“These risks apply to the millions of people around the world who have lost their wives, husbands and partners,” Verdri said. “With evidence suggesting that people who experience the highest rates of mental health problems after the death of a spouse face the greatest risks of physical health problems later, our study found loved ones in the pandemic. underscores the potentially significant health implications for those who are lost.”
These findings, he said, have been recently published Journal of Gerontology — Series BCan help inform policy and suggest the need for additional clinical attention to people who have recently lost loved ones to COVID-19.
Previous research by Verderi and his team estimated that by April 2022, 8.8 million people had lost close family members to COVID-19. Additionally, “bereavement”—the experience of having recently lost a friend or family member—has been shown to have a bad effect. on health.
But while losing a spouse, in particular, has been linked with an increased risk for mental health problems and a decline in physical health, Verdri said little was known about how a traumatic event could result in a loss of a person’s health. Losing a spouse carries a greater risk than usual.
“Other studies have found that when a person experiences a sudden or traumatic ‘bad death’ – characterized by factors such as greater pain, social isolation, and psychological distress – it can be difficult for their loved ones, who then cope. are high health risks of their own,” Verdri said. “Given the enormity of the impact of the pandemic, we wanted to see whether this effect applied to those who have lost their spouses to COVID-19.”
For the study, researchers analyzed data from 27 countries during two different time periods: before the pandemic, from October 2019 to March 2020; and at the beginning of the pandemic, from June to August 2020.
The data included information on mental health, with participants reporting feelings of depression, loneliness and trouble sleeping. Data were also gathered on whether participants had recently lost a spouse, when the death occurred, and whether the death was due to COVID-19.
While the study specifically explored the effects of losing a spouse, the researchers said they believe the findings could extend to other deaths experienced during the pandemic, even if they were not as a result of COVID-19. be.
“Many deaths during the pandemic likely became more traumatic for their loved ones, because fears of preventing friends and family from visiting patients in medical care and hospitals, all possibly made deaths for people regardless of its specific cause. difficult to process,” Verdri said. “Bereavement and bereavement were also compounded during the pandemic due to social isolation, along with other stressors such as financial insecurity and lack of practical and emotional support, all of which could further exacerbate emotional distress.”
The researchers said that in the future, additional research could explore whether other types of bereavement during the pandemic – such as children who lost their parents – carry similar additional risks.
Hawei Wang, Penn State; Emily Smith-Greenway, University of Southern California; Sean Baldry, Purdue University; and Rachel Margolis, University of Western Ontario also participated in this work.
The National Institute on Aging and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development helped support this research.
material provided by Penn State, Original written by Katie Bonn. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.