Study: The Death Of A Close Friend Can Impact Your Health For Years

Death is one of the most significant things that we experience in our lives.

Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one knows just how devastating it can be. It can take weeks, months, or years to feel like some normalcy has returned to your life when someone you care about has passed away.

There has been a great deal of scientific interest in how the death of a family member, like a partner, a child, or a parent can impact the overall well-being of an individual, but not as much focus has been given to the impacts of the death of a close friend. But some new research is shedding light on how the death of our friends impacts our lives.

Mourning the death of a close friend can have major negative impacts on peoples’ physical health as well as their mental health, social functioning, vitality, and may experience other role limitations – that is according to a new study from researchers at Stirling University and Australian National University.

Researchers Wai-Man Liu, Liz Forbat, and Katrina Anderson took data from The Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey. Participants in the survey were interviewed and received follow-up interviews annually. The survey collects information on things like income, employment, family relationships, health, and education. The data came from 26,515 people taken over the course of 14 years.

The researchers found that women in particular who were grieving the death of a close friend saw a more significant drop in overall vitality and experienced more negative mental health impacts, and that these impacts could have an effect for as many as four years.

“There are pronounced declines in the health and wellbeing of people who’d had a friend die in the previous four years, yet employers, GPs and the community aren’t focused on providing support to bereaved friends,” said Dr Liz Forbat, from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

“The death of a friend is a form of disenfranchised grief – one not taken so seriously or afforded such significance,” added Dr. Forbat. “This means their grief might not be openly acknowledged or expressed, and the impact trivialised. This research proves that the death of a friend matters and, as a universal human experience.”

For the researchers, the study suggests “the need to ensure services are able to assist people who have experienced the death of a friend to develop support networks.”

Death of a close friend: Short and long-term impacts on physical, psychological and social well-being was published on April 4, 2019 in Plos One.

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