Press Release

For Immediate Release
Contact: press@hospicefoundation.org
Experts Call on President Biden to Develop a Comprehensive Response to Pandemic Grief

(Washington, Feb. 4)  The nation’s top bereavement experts and organizations on Wednesday joined Hospice Foundation of America to ask President Biden to begin quickly developing a national strategy to help those facing a host of grief-related psychological problems resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including health anxiety, traumatic stress, and complicated grief.

“We write to urge the United States to immediately prepare for a second potential pandemic for which there is no vaccine and insufficient resources to address—a pandemic of complicated grief,” the letter’s signers wrote in a letter to the President.

The letter is signed by presidents of Hospice Foundation of America, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and directors of the Funeral Service Foundation and the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University. Other signers include noted grief experts Robert A. Neimeyer, PhD; J. William Worden, PhD; Therese A. Rando, PhD, BCETS, BCBT; Beverly Wallace, PhD; Heather L. Servaty-Seib, PhD; Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, MDiv; Tashel Bordere, PhD; CT, David J. Schonfeld, MD, FAAP; Dale Larson, PhD; Katherine P. Supiano, PhD, LCSW, F-GSA, FT, APHSW-C, and Charles Corr, PhD. (A full list of signees can be viewed on the letter.)

The letter estimates that close to a half million people in the U.S. are suffering from complicated grief – about as many as have died in the U.S. from COVID-19. That number does not take into account those grieving deaths unrelated to COVID-19 that have occurred during the pandemic.

Complicated grief is disabling grief that prevents a mourner from returning to previous levels of functioning without effective support. Complicated grief has negative physical health consequences for those who suffer from it and sizeable negative financial effects for employers due to lost productivity.

Highlighting the disproportionate number of deaths for people of color, as well as pre-existing cumulative grief within those populations, the writers recommended that special attention be focused on the underserved.

“We urge that there immediately be a convening of appropriate professionals (including physicians, nurses, psychologists, counselors, social workers, grief experts and researchers); philanthropic, corporate, and faith leaders; and governmental agencies/individuals to plan for crafting and funding the concerted network of responses that this extremely serious upcoming crisis requires,” they wrote.

The authors further encouraged targeted funding that would provide for:
(1) direct intervention and provision of therapeutic services to affected persons (in-person and virtually; individual and group modalities; professional- and peer-led);
(2) training of professionals to provide therapeutic intervention (to be offered through professional education programs and college/university courses);
(3) public education to inform the general public of the nature, course, and impacts of COVID-19-related complicated grief, and to provide coping strategies for it and awareness of when treatment is indicated (to be offered through in-person and online programs, along with a website devoted to pandemic grief, and public service announcements that would alert the public to the signs and dangers of grief complications);
(4) research to determine the experiences and complications of COVID-19-related bereavement, as well as into the efficacy of treatment approaches; and
(5) hospice bereavement teams to provide necessary grief support not only to those bereaved by hospice deaths, but also to those bereaved by COVID-19-related deaths outside hospice.

“The current situation of escalated psychological, behavioral, social, and physical health problems created by deaths experienced during this pandemic mandate that new levels and types of intervention be provided immediately and for years to come,” the letter states.

Those wishing to join the letter’s authors to support the call for action can sign on here.