Palliative and End of Life Care Research Institute
We are delighted to announce a significant new grant was awarded to lead researcher, Professor Liz Lobb and her team of investigators, under the Medical Research Futures Fund, titled: Identifying the mental health effects and support needs of people bereaved during and following COVID-19: A Mixed Methods Project.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of life, including how we die and how we grieve. The effects of this unprecedented situation are likely to continue ricocheting through society into the foreseeable future. Each year at least 44,000 Australians will develop chronic and debilitating mental health impairments following the death of a family member or close friend.  Bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether attributable to the virus or not, presents additional significant risk factors for poor mental health due to public health measures such as: physical distancing, limiting visitors and reducing physical contact. Little is known about the mental health effects and support needs of people bereaved during and following global crises, such as COVID-19. 
Opportunity: To address this significant gap, this National COVID-19 Bereavement Project tracked the mental health outcomes and service needs of over 2,000 Australians bereaved from any cause during 2020. The evidence generated from this national longitudinal COVID-19 bereavement study will ensure that Australia’s mental health system can rapidly and appropriately respond to provide the necessary psychosocial supports during current and future global crises. To achieve this, CIA Lobb, an internationally recognised mental health leader has brought together the nation’s leading bereavement and palliative care experts and major industry partners to undertake this project.
Aim: This project will systematically establish the evidence base to: 1) quantify the mental health outcomes and needs of those bereaved during COVID-19; 2) optimise service preparedness for future global pandemics or other humanitarian crises; 3) build the evidence for effective clinical interventions, and 4) identify preventative mental health and supportive bereavement recovery strategies at the macro, meso and micro levels.
Methodology: This national mixed methods project was composed of four discrete but linked studies.
Study 1: A cross-sectional community cohort study of mental health and supports needs following bereavement during COVID-19
Study 2: A longitudinal cohort study of mental-health outcomes
Study 3: A qualitative study of mental health outcomes following bereavement during COVID
Study 4: The bereavement experiences of vulnerable populations during COVID-19
Outcomes: The analysed data from the four studies will be integrated and a meta-inference undertaken to generate a series of policy, practice, education and research recommendations to inform the actions required to address the mental health needs of people bereaved during a pandemic. These findings, their implications, and recommendations for bereavement pandemic planning will be disseminated during workshops with key mental health, palliative care, aged care and community psychology and primary care stakeholders; and used to support the development of a National Bereavement Action Plan.
Professor Lobb was joined by a number of partners and collaborators in this research which commenced in April 2021 and concluded in March 2022 with 2,700 completed surveys and 100 interviews. Study 4 – interviews with Multi-cultural and Transcultural Health Workers and with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health Workers in underway.
1. Thompson, C., et al., Research into services and needs for people experiencing complicated grief: Final report. 2017: Centre for Health Service Development, Australian Health Services Research Institute, University of Wollongong.
2. Mayland, C.R., et al., Supporting adults bereaved through COVID-19: A rapid review of the impact of previous pandemics on grief and bereavement. J. Pain & Symp Mgt, 2020.
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