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Death of a friend ‘impacts health for up to four years’

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The death of a close friend can cause a major decline in physical health and psychological wellbeing – with the impact being felt for up to four years, research has revealed.

new study from academics at the University of Stirling and Australian National University (ANU), also found that bereaved women experienced worse effects than men. 

Studying data from 26,515 individuals captured over 14 years, researchers found a range of negative and enduring consequences were experienced by people following the death of a close friend. Significant adverse physical and psychological well-being, and poorer mental health and social functioning, was discovered to occur up to four years following bereavement.

The research revealed that grieving women experienced a sharper fall in vitality, suffered greater deterioration in mental health, and impaired emotional and social functioning after a friend passed away.

Dr Liz Forbat, Associate Professor in the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said: “Much of the previous research around grief and bereavement has focused on the death of an immediate relative, often a spouse. We all know that when a partner, child or parent dies that the bereaved person is likely to grieve and feel worse for some time afterwards.

“The impact of the death of a friend, which most of us will experience, is not afforded the same sense of seriousness. 

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

“This means their grief might not be openly acknowledged or expressed, and the impact trivialised.”

The research was carried out by Dr Forbat in partnership with Dr Wai-Man Liu from ANU’s School of Finance and Katrina Anderson, Associate Professor at ANU Medical School.

Dr Forbat added: “This research proves that the death of a friend matters and, as a universal human experience, the findings are applicable internationally. Our study suggests there is a need to ensure that services are available to assist people who have experienced the death of a friend, to help them develop necessary support networks.”

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