New research shows that as the deaths caused by COVID-19 are tallied, each one affects nine close family members. These are the "secondary victims" of the disease and new research shows that their suffering is enormous.
According to Kaiser Health News, bereaved individuals report “severe symptoms of traumatic stress, including helplessness, horror, anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt, and regret, all of which can magnify their grief.” Holly Prigerson of the Center for Research on End-of-Life Care at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City said that people in mourning may suffer worse outcomes because of social isolation and lockdowns during the pandemic, and older adults are particularly vulnerable.
According to CNN, if 190,000 Americans die from COVID-19 by the end of August, 1.7 million will be mourning for close family members. The new study indicates that the psychological effects of witnessing loved ones decline rapidly and not being able to be there with them may last for years.
“Not being there in a loved one’s time of need, not being able to communicate with family members in a natural way, not being able to say goodbye, not participating in normal rituals — all this makes bereavement more difficult,” Prigerson said.
Experts said that many hospices have extended their bereavement counseling to community members and not just to clients during the pandemic. Funeral directors can also offer referral for support services. Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care offers virtual grief support groups that are free and open to community members. They have a 24/7 call center and their toll-free number to find a group near you is 1-855-812-1136.
Diane Snyder-Cowan, director of Western Reserve Grief Services at Hospice of the Western Reserve, told KHN: “I firmly believe we’re still at the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the help people need, and we won’t understand the full scope of that for another 6 to 9 months.”
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