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COVID-19

Losing a spouse to COVID-19 may be worse for mental health than any other cause of death

“Grieving and mourning were also complicated during the pandemic due to social isolation."

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Depressed person sitting on kitchen floor feeling down in his luck suffering
If COVID-19 was the cause of death of a loved one then multiple other stressors were likely to combine with the grief.
(True Touch Lifestyle/Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Losing a wife or husband to COVID-19 may be worse for mental health than any other cause of death, according to a new study.

Researchers found that people who lost their partner to the virus were more likely to report symptoms of depression and loneliness than those whose spouses died just before the pandemic began.

Study author Professor Ashton Verdery says the study underscores the ongoing health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, even to those who have not been infected by the virus.

Prof Verdery, of Penn State University in the US, said: “These risks apply to millions of people across the globe who have lost their wives, husbands and partners.

“Along with evidence that suggests those who experience the highest rates of mental health problems after the death of a spouse also face the largest risks of subsequent physical health problems, our study underscores the potentially significant health ramifications to those losing loved ones to the pandemic.”

people, grief and domestic violence concept - unhappy woman sitting on floor and crying at home
When COVID-19 was the cause of death it is likely that social isolation was also a factor for their loved ones. (Ground Picture/Shutterstock)

He said that the findings, published in the Journals of Gerontology – Series B, suggest a need for extra clinical attention to be paid to people who have recently lost loved ones to COVID-19.

Previous research by Prof. Verdery and his team estimated that 8.8 million individuals lost close family members to COVID-19 by April this year.

Additionally, “bereavement” - the experience of recently losing a friend or family member - has been shown to have poor effects on health.

But while losing a spouse, in particular, has been linked with an increased risk for mental health problems and declines in physical health, Prof. Verdery said less was known about whether losing a spouse in a traumatic event such as a pandemic posed higher risks than usual.

He said: “Other studies have found that when a person experiences a sudden or traumatic ‘bad death’ - characterized by such factors as greater pain, social isolation and psychological distress - it can be harder on their loved ones, who then go on to face elevated health risks of their own.

“Given the enormity of the impact of the pandemic, we wanted to see whether this effect applied to those who lost a spouse to COVID-19.”

The study involved analyzing data from 27 countries during two different time periods: before the pandemic, from October 2019 to March 2020; and early in the pandemic, from June to August 2020.

Data included information on mental health, including the participants reporting their feelings of depression, loneliness and trouble sleeping.

Information was also gathered about 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 believe their findings could extend to other deaths experienced during the pandemic, even if they were not as a result of the virus.

Prof Verdery said: “Many deaths during the pandemic likely became more traumatic for their loved ones due to fear of seeking medical care and hospitals restricting friends and family from visiting patients, all of which likely made it difficult for people to process deaths regardless of their specific cause."

He added: “Grieving and mourning were also complicated 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 aggravate emotional distress.”

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