Death of a close friend: Short and long-term impacts on physical, psychological and social well-being


Liu W, Forbat L & Anderson K (2019) Death of a close friend: Short and long-term impacts on physical, psychological and social well-being. PLOS ONE, 14 (4), Art. No.: e0214838.

This paper reports the impact of a major life event–death–on the physical, psychological and social well-being of the deceased’s close friends. We utilised data from a large longitudinal survey covering a period of 14 years (2002–2015) consisting a cohort of 26,515 individuals in Australia, of whom 9,586 had experienced the death of at least one close friend. This longitudinal cohort dataset comprises responses to the SF-36 (health related quality of life measure) and allowed for analysis of the short and longer-term impacts of bereavement. In order to manage the heterogeneity of the socio-demographics of respondents who did/not experience a death event, we use a new and robust approach known as the Entropy Balancing method to construct a set of weights applied to the bereaved group and the control group (the group that did not experience death). This approach enables us to match the two groups so that the distribution of socio-demographic variables between the two groups are balanced. These variables included gender, age, marital status, ethnicity, personality traits, religion, relative socio-economic disadvantage, economic resources, and education and occupation and where they resided. The data show, for the first time, a range of negative and enduring consequences experienced by people following the death of a close friend. Significant adverse physical and psychological well-being, poorer mental health and social functioning occur up to four years following bereavement. Bereaved females experienced a sharper fall in vitality, suffered greater deterioration in mental health, impaired emotional and social functioning than the male counterparts up to four years after the death. The data show that the level of social connectedness plays an important role in bereavement outcomes. Specifically, we found that less socially active respondents experienced a longer deterioration in physical and psychological health. Finally, we found evidence that the death of a close friend lowered the respondent’s satisfaction with their health. Since death of friends is a universal phenomenon, we conclude the paper by reflecting on the need to recognise the death of a close friend as a substantial experience, and to offer support and services to address this disenfranchised grief. Recognising bereaved friends as a group experiencing adverse outcomes can be used internationally to prompt health and psychological services to assist this specific group, noting that there may be substantial longevity to the negative sequelae of the death of a friend. Facilitating bereaved people’s support networks may be a fruitful approach to minimising these negative outcomes.

General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology; General Agricultural and Biological Sciences; General Medicine

PLOS ONE: Volume 14, Issue 4

FundersAardvark TMC
Publication date04/04/2019
Publication date online04/04/2019
Date accepted by journal22/03/2019
PublisherPublic Library of Science (PLoS)