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Understanding experiences of bereavement during the pandemic

A health professional supporting a bereaved family member

Researchers led by Dr. Emily Harrop at Cardiff University and Dr. Lucy Selman at the University of Bristol explored how the COVID-19 pandemic influenced people's personal experiences of bereavement, and the support that they received.

Dr. Damian Farnell and Dr. Renata Medeiros Mirra at Cardiff University's School of Dentistry also supported the study by conducting statistical analyses of survey data.

Understanding people's experiences

The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to have taken place between March 2020 and May 2020. 711 people who experienced bereavement during this period completed an online questionnaire about their personal experience, as part of a study undertaken by Dr. Emily Harrop and Dr. Lucy Selman.

Following a statistical analysis of the collected data by Dr. Damian Farnell and Dr. Renata Medeiros Mirra, it was discovered that:

  • 54.3% were unable to visit the deceased prior to their death
  • 57.8% had limited contact with them in last days of their life
  • 63.9% were unable to say goodbye as they would have liked
  • 93.4% experienced restricted funeral arrangements
  • 66.7% suffered from social isolation and loneliness
  • 80.7% had limited contact with other close relatives or friends

Furthermore, 28.2% of the bereaved experienced severe levels of grief following their loss.

"It was brutal. It still is, as I feel the grieving process is so much worse now due to isolation and lack of contact, the trauma of [Name]’s sudden death and not having any time with him. I tell people that unless you have lost someone you love so much suddenly, during this pandemic, you can never understand the feelings of hopelessness, despair, sadness, so much was ripped away from me and my children."
Bereaved wife

Reporting the findings

Findings from the study were presented at the launch of the UK Commission on Bereavement in June 2021, with a public statement by the Minister for Mental Health to address the gaps and challenges identified by the study.

Moving forward, the study will focus on the log-term effects of these bereavement's, and the impact of COVID-19 upon bereavement services and care.

Patient in a hospital bed

Key facts

  • 755 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 6.9 million deaths from COVID-19 were recorded globally as of 10 February 2023 by the World Health Organisation
  • for each of these deaths, there were approximately nine close family members or friends who experienced bereavement

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on bereavement services

67.3% of services reported that there were groups with unmet needs not accessing their services before the pandemic; most frequently:

  • people from minority ethnic communities (49%)
  • sexual minority groups (26.5%)
  • people from deprived areas (24.5%)
  • men (23.8%)

These numbers changed relatively little during the pandemic, although qualitative findings demonstrated the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on minority ethnic communities, including disruption to care/mourning practices, and the need for culturally appropriate support.

Meet the team

Key contacts