Covid-19 and Grief

The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, resulted in widespread grief of various forms. As of August 9th 2023, according to the World Health Organisation, there were 6,954,336 deaths globally from COVID-19, including 228,542 confirmed deaths in the UK. Each of these deaths is said to have left an average of nine people bereaved (Verdery, et al., 2020). Moreover, deaths from other causes surpass 50 million globally each year, so a great many bereavements occurred in the midst of the pandemic.

The grief people experienced was often affected by measures introduced to control the spread of the virus, such as lockdowns, travel restrictions, and social distancing protocols. Many people were unable to say goodbye to loved ones or to partake in funerals and other collective mourning rituals, and bereavements occurred against a backdrop of wide-spread loss and disorientation. For many people, grief's usual trajectory was disrupted during the pandemic, and it has been suggested we ought to expect higher incidences of pathological or prolonged forms of grief (e.g., Gesi, et al., 2020)

Moreover, beyond bereavement, many who did not personally lose a loved one during the pandemic still experienced significant loss. People lost opportunities, security, and social connections, and encountered a great deal of uncertainty about the future. Important events were cancelled, and businesses, workplaces, and educational institutions closed. A question arises about whether some such non-bereavement losses might have been grieved, rather than just being the targets of, say, sadness or disappointment.

‘Grief: A Study of Human Emotional Experience’ began in January 2020, only shortly before the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic in March 2020. We thus conducted research into the impact of these unfolding events on people’s experiences of grief as they occurred.

Project Research

For research into the ways that the social restrictions imposed during the pandemic impacted people’s experiences of grief see:

For exploration of the various non-bereavement losses of the pandemic and whether they count as experiences of grief, specifically, see:

For discussion of loss of meaning, boredom, and temporal disruption during the pandemic see:

Matthew Ratcliffe was also involved in the Pandemic Experience Survey. This questionnaire was disseminated to participants in the UK, Japan, and Mexico, and explored people's experiences of social distancing. One section of this survey asked participants about their experiences of grief. A second questionnaire with the same questions was issued a year later to participants who had agreed to do a follow-up, providing longitudinal data. These surveys are described in the following data reports:

Several of the articles listed above were published as part of the Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences special issue ‘Emotions of the Pandemic: Phenomenological Perspectives’, edited by Matthew Ratcliffe and Luna Dolezal.

Grief and the Pandemic

Watch our film collaboration with Calling the Shots productions for the Arts and Humanities Research Council supported by BBC Arts Culture in Quarantine. The film was part of the Animated Thinking series of films, based on the work of UK academics, launched in November 2020. The film was based upon the research of Matthew Ratcliffe, Louise Richardson, and Becky Millar.

​See also this short podcast 'Grief and the Covid-19 Pandemic', released in June 2020 by project co-investigator Louise Richardson: