Losing a spouse can be a devastating experience for anyone. A new study found that experiencing the death of a spouse due to COVID-19 may be worse for mental health than deaths from other causes.
Penn State researchers found that while there were strong associations between the recent death of a spouse and poorer mental health both before and during the pandemic, people who lost a spouse to COVID-19 were more likely to report symptoms of depression and loneliness than comparable people whose spouses died just before the pandemic began.
Ashton Verdery, Harry and Elissa Sichi Early Career Professor of Sociology, Demography, and Social Data Analytics at Penn State, said the study underscores the ongoing health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, even to those who have not been infected by the virus.
“These risks apply to millions of people across the globe who have lost their wives, husbands and partners,” Verdery said. “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.”
He added that these findings, recently published in the Journals of Gerontology — Series B, could help inform policy and suggest a need for extra clinical attention to those who have recently lost loved ones to COVID-19.
Previous research by Verdery and his team estimated that 8.8 million individuals lost close family members to COVID-19 by April 2022. Additionally, “bereavement” — the experience of recently losing a friend or family member — has been shown to have poor effects on health.
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