Dr. Ashton Verdery, PSU, Associate Professor of Sociology and Demography
"COVID-19, bereavement, and downstream health challenges"
Millions around the world are grieving the loss of loved ones from COVID-19, but prior research has not tested whether COVID-19-related bereavement presents unique health risks compared to other forms of bereavement. If bereavement from COVID-19 is more strongly associated with health challenges than bereavement more generally, large cohorts of newly bereaved individuals may create lasting population health challenges in heavily affected countries. Using population-based data and a pseudo-experimental, difference-in-difference research design, we test whether associations between family bereavement and depression differ when bereavement is caused by COVID-19 compared to other causes. Consistent with past scholarship, we find strong associations between family bereavement and depression and that self-reported depression appears to have decreased during the pandemic. However, our difference-in-difference estimates indicate that experiencing COVID-19-related family bereavement is more strongly associated with depression than non-COVID-19 forms of bereavement, a finding that is robust across numerous specifications related to duration since exposure and type of family member lost, but that shows some variation across subpopulations by gender, age, and severity of local COVID-19 mortality shock. This research raises new concerns about the long-run implications of the COVID-19 pandemic’s secondary impacts, further underscores the health risks associated with bereavement more generally, and highlights how acute mortality shocks of different sorts can create cascading population health challenges. This project is coauthored with Haowei Wang, Emily Smith-Greenaway, Rachel Margolis, and Shawn Bauldry.
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