The death of a close friend hits harder than we think

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  Last updated July 19, 2019 at 1:57 pm

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The trauma caused by the death of a close friend lasts four times longer than previously believed.


grief grieving loss death of a close friend

The grief of losing a close friend lasts longer than we assumed.


People mourning a close friend may not be receiving adequate support during the grieving process, suggests new research from The Australian National University (ANU). This gap stems from a lack of recognition about the time it takes people to properly mourn a close friend.


The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, shows the death of a close friend will significantly affect a person’s physical, psychological and social well-being up to at least four years.


This is far longer than previous studies, which suggested the grieving period lasted for around 12 months.


Significant damage to physical and mental health


The study analysed longitudinal data and indicators of health from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey of 26,515 Australians, of whom 9,586 had experienced the death of at least one close friend.


Lead author Wai-Man Liu said the study found people grieving a close friend suffered a significant decline in physical health, mental health, emotional stability and social life.


Females were found to suffer a sharper fall in vitality compared to males.


“These findings raise serious concerns with the way we manage the recovery for people dealing with the loss of a close friend,” says Liu.


“We found there are serious declines in the health and well-being of people who had experienced the death of a close friend any time in the last four years.”


The study also found that social connectedness played a crucial role in the grieving stages.


It was found that participants who weren’t as socially active experienced a longer deterioration in physical and psychological health.


A major experience not taken seriously


Liu says the death of a close friend must be recognised as a substantial experience.


“We all know that when someone loses a partner, parent or child, that person is likely to suffer through a significant grieving period,” says Lui.


“Yet death of a close friend, which most of us will experience, is not afforded the same level of seriousness by employers, doctors, and the community.


“The death of a friend is a form of disenfranchised grief – one not taken so seriously or afforded such significance”


“This is leaving people without the support and services they need during a very traumatic period of their lives.”


The study also points out the need for medical practitioners and policy makers to rethink the way they approach dealing with people’s grief after the loss of a friend.


“We need to recognise the death of a close friend takes a serious toll, and to offer health and psychological services to assist these people over an adequate period of time,” says Liu.


The research paper is available online.


If you, or someone you know needs help with mental health, help is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.


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