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COVID deaths are now barely mentioned in the media. That changes the very nature of grief

COVID deaths are now barely mentioned in the media.  That changes the nature of grief

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About a year ago, many of us were in lockdown. State Prime Ministers were in the media every day to reveal how many people had tested positive for COVID and how many people had died.

The death toll was prominent in news bulletins. We would regret the grief of it all, until the next day the data arrived.

A year later, Australia is on average about 50 COVID deaths per day. We have had more than 9,300 COVID deaths since the pandemic started. Yet these deaths are barely mentioned in the Australian media.

We seem to have lost the collective opportunity to acknowledge lost lives. And if we don’t talk about these traumatic deaths, that has a long-term effect on those who are left behind.

Is traumatic loss different?

All grief is hard to deal with. But when grief is combined with the kind of trauma we would see in a violent or sudden death, we can see something different in the long run.

If the media doesn’t discuss the losses, this can complicate the traumatic grief and lead to something called prolonged grief disorder

This kind of grief can extend far beyond the first year after the loss. People long for their lives before their loved one was taken away. This affects their ability to continue moving forward long after the death has occurred.

How does this apply to COVID?

People who have lost a loved one to COVID can feel lonely and isolated† They can also develop prolonged grief disorder.

It can be traumatic to say goodbye under hospital restrictions or to lose the opportunity for mourning rituals – viewings, funerals, and sharing the loss with others – despite many others going through a similar loss.

People who develop long-term grief disorders after losing a loved one to COVID may find they have it worse and prolonged grief reactions. This can lead to adverse consequences such as increased pre-occupation with their grief, intense emotions, and difficulty connecting with their lives after the loss.

But looking at the Australian media, it seems that the community is no longer focused on the faces of those lost lives.

What’s the media got to do with it?

Media attention has been around for a long time intertwined with how we grieve.

When the media publishes first-person accounts of the lives of people, images or faces of people who have died, or constantly keeps track of the toll of lives lost, it has an impact on those left behind, especially if there is a sudden and traumatic death.

This kind of media coverage allows viewers to collectively empathize with the people left behind, pitting stories against the abstract statistics of death. The community can vicariously share in that grief and the media coverage increases the community’s understanding of what that loss means.

We have seen examples of this on social media, for example with the @FacesOfCOVID Twitter account, which pays tribute to five or six people a day who have died from COVID.

However, we have not seen the same tributes in the mainstream media every day.

Failure to pay tribute to lost lives can affect those left behind in many ways:

  • less shared images, names, or acknowledgments limit the number of people who hear about someone who has died, so that fewer people can express their grief
  • families lose the opportunity to say to others “this is the person I lost” to show people their pain
  • people who have also lost someone do not see others with the same pain.

Each traumatic loss affects many others

More people are affected by a sudden or traumatic loss, such as a murder or suicide, than we ever thought. One study suggests as much as 135 people be significantly affected. A different study shows for every COVID death up to nine people being influenced.

Regardless of whether there are nine or 135 people feeling the ripple effects, the number of deaths we’ve experienced in Australia tells us that thousands are living with the grief of a traumatic COVID death.

This grief will shape people’s experiences with the world, dulling the possibilities for joy, making it difficult to accept the final loss of a loss. This is compounded by how little we as a community have focused on those losses.

A lack of media coverage of deaths from COVID means we’ve also lost moments of shared empathy — a space for others to see people walking the same path.

COVID has changed our way of living, dying and grieving

Provided by The Conversation

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original articleThe conversation

Quote: COVID deaths are now barely mentioned in the media. That changes the nature of grief (2022, June 23) retrieved June 23, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-covid-deaths-spoken-media-nature.html

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