“This magnitude of death over a short period of time is an international tragedy on a historic scale,” the authors said. “This interpersonal loss is compounded by societal disruption.”
Of central concern, the authors wrote, is “the transformation of normal grief and distress into prolonged grief and major depressive disorder and symptoms of posttraumatic health disorder.”
A grief that lasts longer
Prolonged grief, which affects approximately 10% of bereaved people, is characterized by at least six months of intense longing, preoccupation or both, with the deceased; emotional pain; loneliness; difficulty reengaging in life; avoidance; feeling life is meaningless; and increased suicide risk. These conditions can also become chronic with additional comorbidities, such as substance use disorders, the authors said.
The 10% affected by prolonged grief is likely an underestimate for grief related to deaths from Covid-19, and each death leaves approximately nine family members bereaved, the authors said. This means there are a projected 2 million bereaved individuals in the US and “thus, the effect of Covid-19 deaths on mental health will be profound.”
Of particular concern for the authors is the psychological risks for health care and other essential workers. “Supporting the mental health of these and other essential workforce is critical to readiness for managing recurrent waves of the pandemic,” the authors said.