COVID-19 was the third most common cause of death between March 2020 and October 2021 in the United States, after only heart disease and cancer, according to a recent study.
Older people face the greatest risk of dying from COVID-19, but infection with the coronavirus still poses a serious risk to young people, too. In 2021, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in adults aged 45-54, the second leading cause of death in adults aged 35-44 and the fourth leading cause of death in those aged 15-34.
As sociologists who study population health, we have assessed how the loss of a loved one to COVID-19 has affected people’s well-being. Our research shows that more than 9 million people have lost a close relative to COVID-19 in the United States. This dramatic rise in bereavement is concerning because our research has found that COVID-19 bereavement not only increases the risk of depression, but can make them unique. prone to mental distress.
Sad deaths marked by COVID-19
Researchers have a sense of what constitutes “good” and “bad” deaths. Bad deaths are those that involve pain or discomfort and occur in isolation. Their unpredictability also makes these deaths all the more troubling. People whose loved ones died “bad deaths” tended to report greater psychological distress than those whose loved ones died in more favorable circumstances.
COVID-19 deaths often bear many of the hallmarks of “bad” deaths. They are preceded by physical pain and malaise, often occur in isolated places of the hospital and come on suddenly – leaving family members unprepared. The ongoing nature of the pandemic has caused an additional layer of suffering, with individuals feeling grief during a period of prolonged social isolation, economic fragility, and general uncertainty.
In another recent study, our team used national survey data from 27 countries to test whether the mental health effects of COVID-19 deaths are more severe than death from other causes. We focused on the death of a spouse and compared two groups of people: those whose spouses died of COVID-19 in the first wave of the pandemic and those whose spouses died of other causes just before the pandemic began. We found that widows and widows infected with COVID-19 experience higher rates of depression and loneliness than would be expected based on the mental health outcomes of widows and widowers prior to the outbreak.
Secondary health consequences of COVID-19 deaths
The huge impacts of COVID-19 deaths on the mental health of grieving spouses are concerning because we estimate that nearly 500,000 people have already lost their spouses to COVID-19 in the United States alone. The mental health problems people experience after losing a loved one can also worsen physical health and even increase a person’s risk of death.
Our research indicates that not only has COVID-19 increased rates of family bereavement, but people who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus have been particularly distressed afterward. But we only studied widowhood. Future research needs to identify the potential unique health, social and economic consequences of COVID-19 losses for other bereaved relatives.
With COVID-19 accounting for 1 in 8 deaths between March 2020 and October 2021, there are millions of people who could benefit greatly from financial, social, and mental health support. It is also critical to continue to take steps to prevent future COVID-19 deaths. Every death avoided not only saves a life but also many loved ones from the harm that follows these tragedies.
This article is republished from The Conversation, a non-profit news site dedicated to exchanging ideas from academic experts. Written by: Emily Smith Greenaway, University of Southern California Dornsiv College of Arts, Arts and Sciences; ashton verdere, Pennsylvania state; Haiwei Wang, Pennsylvania stateand Shawn Baldry , Bordeaux United.
Emily Smith Greenaway receives funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Ashton Verdere receives funding from the National Institute on Aging (1R01AG060949).
Sean Baldry receives funding from the National Institute on Aging.
Haowei Wang does not work for, does not consult with, does not hold shares in any company, organization or organization that benefits from this article, and has not disclosed any relevant affiliations after her academic appointment.
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