Losing a friend impacts women more than men

Facilitating bereaved people’s support networks may be a fruitful approach to minimizing these negative outcomes.


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In a new study, scientists reported on the impact of a major life event—death—on the physical, psychological, and social well-being of the deceased’s close friends. According to the study, the death of a close friend can cause a major decline in physical health and psychological well–being, with the impact being felt for up to four years.

For the study, scientists at the University of Stirling gathered the data from a large longitudinal survey covering a period of 14 years (2002–2015) consisting of a cohort of 26,515 individuals in Australia, of whom 9,586 had experienced the death of at least one close friend. Scientists found a range of negative and enduring consequences were experienced by people following the death of a close friend.

Bereaved females experienced a sharper fall in vitality, suffered greater deterioration in mental health, and impaired emotional and social functioning than their male counterparts up to four years after the death.

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 afterward.”

“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 trivialized.”

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.”

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. The paper is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Journal Reference

  1. Liu, M., 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), e0214838. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214838


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