New study highlights ‘exceptional challenges’ of bereavement during COVID-19 pandemic

The interim findings of a survey of people bereaved in the UK since March have laid bare the difficulties and distress experienced by those who have lost a loved one this year.

The first UK-wide survey exploring bereavement experiences and support was carried out by Cardiff University and the University of Bristol, with many participants describing a lack of support following a loved one’s death.

The survey found 45% were not contacted by the hospital or care provider following a bereavement, while more than half were not provided with any information about bereavement support (51%) and 56% of people who tried to access bereavement services also experienced difficulties.

The researchers, including a team from the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Centre, are conducting the research to give voice to the experiences of people bereaved in the UK of any cause since 16 March. The team has released findings from the first 532 respondents to the survey, which remains open until December 31.

Of those surveyed so far:

  • Almost half (46%) had lost a loved one who had a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection;
  • COVID-19 deaths were significantly associated with higher levels of negative death and mourning experiences (e.g. contact with loved one prior to death, social isolation following death) except for restricted funeral arrangements, which affected almost all respondents (94%);
  • 70% of bereaved people whose loved one died of a confirmed COVID-19 infection had limited contact with them in the last days of life; 85% were unable to say goodbye as they would have liked and 75% experienced social isolation and loneliness.

Dr Emily Harrop, from the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Centre based at Cardiff University and a research associate in the School of Medicine, said: “The survey results so far show the exceptional challenges of pandemic bereavement in terms of difficult experiences at the end of life, restricted funerals and social isolation.

“Alongside these difficulties and relatively high levels of needs, bereaved people also report problems accessing support from friends and family and bereavement services.”

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