New Study Reveals It Takes Years to Recover From Losing a Friend

Research suggests the grief is similar to losing a spouse.

The death of a close friend leaves a hole in our hearts that can never really be filled. At times, the pain can be overwhelming and the grief can feel endless. And, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS One, it can take a lot longer to recover than most people think.

For the new study, researchers from Australian National University analyzed how major life events affected more than 26,500 people over the course of 14 years in Australia. Nearly 9,600 of the participants had experienced the death of at least one close friend. After analyzing the short and longer-term impacts of bereavement—both physical and psychological—the researchers determined that losing a close friend has a much greater impact than has previously been assumed. In fact, the loss of a friend can often match the deterioration in mental and physical health experienced by a bereaved spouse.

Previous research claimed it takes around 12 months to recover from the death of a close friend. But this new study says that the event continues to negatively impact our wellbeing for up to four years.

"We found there are serious declines in the health and wellbeing of people who had experienced the death of a close friend in the last four years," Dr. Wai-Man Liu, a professor at Australian National University and lead author of the study, said in a university newsletter. "These findings raise serious concerns with the way we manage the recovery for people dealing with the loss of a close friend."

The researchers also found that women tend to take the death of a close friend harder, and don't bounce back quite as quickly as men do. Unsurprisingly, people who were less socially connected or active took a longer time to recover as well. Dr. Liu therefore believes that medical practitioners and policy makers have to take the issue more seriously and give people more tools to deal with this crushing life blow.

"We all know that when someone loses a partner, parent, or child, that person is likely to suffer through a significant grieving period," Dr. Liu said. "Yet the death of a close friend, which most of us will experience, is not afforded the same level of seriousness by employers, doctors, and the community. This is leaving people without the support and services they need during a very traumatic period of their lives."

After all, as Dr. Liu put it, "the death of a friend is a form of disenfranchised grief," and we should all be making sure that the people who are going through it are getting the proper support.

If you're dealing with any kind of grief and need someone to talk to, call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) today. And for more on how social support helps us deal with feelings of sadness, read this study on how Reddit can help you fight depression.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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