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New WebMD Report: Grief is Universal, Yet Responses from Others Often Unhelpful;
[July 11, 2019]

New WebMD Report: Grief is Universal, Yet Responses from Others Often Unhelpful;

NEW YORK, July 11, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- A new report from WebMD finds that while grief is nearly universal, most people feel rushed to "get over it," and find social media posts about their loss among the least helpful responses from others during the grieving process.

WebMD logo (PRNewsFoto/WebMD Health Corp.) (PRNewsFoto/WebMD Health Corp.)

The survey, Grief:  Beyond the 5 Stages, found that nearly three-quarters of all respondents had grieved a loss within the past three years, and virtually everyone who did had mental and/or physical symptoms from grief, notably sadness and fatigue. More than half (53%) of those who grieved said they felt an expectation from others to "move on," 58% of them after about three months. In fact, nearly half grieved intensely for up to six months, and 18% were grieving one year after the life event.

The most common losses overall during the previous three years were death of a family member or close friend (excluding a child or partner), 32%; loss of a friendship/relationship (not including divorce), 29%; family member diagnosed with a serious illness or chronic health condition, 23%; and death of a pet, 20%.

WebMD's survey was completed by 1,084 respondents from AmeriSpeak, a probability-based panel designed to represent the U.S. household population. The margin of is +/- 2.98 percentage points.  

Click here to view the report:

Click here to view the survey methodology:

The report found that people grieved the loss of a friendship/relationship at a level similar to the death of a family member or close friend. A higher percentage of people (20%) said their intense grieving lasted more than a year, compared with 12% who had experienced the death of a close friend or family member.

Reasons and Consequences of Grief

Grief is marked by intense sorrow/pain (34%), followed by difficulty accepting the loss, guilt, detachment/numbness, and lack of trust in others (23% each). Death caused the most intense sorrow (42%), while losing a friendship/relationship resulted in a lack of trust in others (53%), bitterness (41%), and guilt (36%).

Most people (88%), experienced a mental symptom from grief, such as depression, anger, sleep disturbance, and two-thirds, (68%) had a physical symptom i.e. fatigue, change of appetite, and physical pain, including headaches and general aches and pains.

Nearly 15% of all respondents experienced long-term grief, (more than one year), and almost half felt pressure to recover, the majority (82%) within one year. The life events most likely to result in long-term grief were diagnosis of a serious illness, such as dementia, addiction, loss of mobility, or cancer, (theirs or family member's), 29%; loss of a friendship or relationship, 26%; death of a child, spouse/partner, family member, or close friend, 21%; and death of a pet, 4%.

Longer grieving also carried with it a greater chance of having physical and mental symptoms, as compared with shorter-term grieving, including intense sorrow, pain, and thoughts of the loss (46% vs. 34%), problems accepting the loss (32% vs. 23%), guilt or self-blame (35% vs. 23%), numbness or detachment (31% vs. 23%), and bitterness (31% vs. 19%).  More than 60% of those with longer-term grief engaged in negative coping behaviors like substance use or social isolation.

Reaching Out: What Helps, What Doesn't

More than 40% of people said posts about their loss on social media by others made them feel worse, and a third of respondents felt similarly about unsolicited advice.  Other responses, such as "things could be worse" or "time to move on," were also found to be unhelpful.  

However, more than half (54%) of survey respondents said they appreciated people trying to cheer them up, and 53% found they felt better when people shared similar experiences.

"What our report found is that people feel a depth of loss from a variety of life experiences," said Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, a WebMD contributor and clinical assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. "In our culture, we often forget how painful these losses can be, how unique they are to the individual, and how long the pain can last. We aren't sure how to respond to those grieving. As we learn more, we can gain skills that allow us to really support those around us who are hurting."

The now-iconic Five Stages of Grief model, introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, described a grief process starting with denial, and then moving to anger, bargaining, depression, and, ultimately, acceptance. In later years, Kubler-Ross noted that the process was not necessarily linear and believed her work had been misinterpreted. Recent bereavement research has indeed questioned the "stages model," but it has persisted in public understanding and popular culture.  

"As the WebMD report shows, there is no 'one size fits all' with grieving and no neat, linear progression," said Dr. Gillihan. "Still, it is an experience that virtually all of us will go through at some point, so gaining greater insight as a culture will enable us to help others, and ourselves."

Additional Report Findings:

The Grieving Process

  • The majority of people, 67%, grieved intensely for up to a year for a grief event.
  • A smaller group of people experienced some grieving beyond one year (13%), most notably among those who lost a friendship or relationship (20%).
  • People who experienced long-term grief of more than one year showed higher rates of mental symptoms than those grieving for shorter periods; for example, depression (59% vs. 43%), sleep disturbances (54% vs. 33%), anger (49% vs. 33%), anxiety (39% vs. 23%), and suicidal thoughts (16% vs. 7%) than those with shorter term grief.

Responses to Grieving

  • More than half (51%) engaged in negative behavior, including isolation (47%), excessive alcohol consumption, (26%), and overspending (23%). Those who were grieving loss of a friendship/relationship were more likely to cite excessive alcohol consumption (42%) and overeating (42%) as negative behaviors.
  • Those grieving for two years or more were more likely to become socially isolated (52%), under-eat (39%), or use recreational drugs (26%).
  • Positive responses included spending more time with friends and family (44%), listening to or playing music (39%), focusing on work (32%), seeking out faith or spiritual practices (24%), and reading or listening to podcasts (20%). People experiencing longer-term grief were more likely to turn to spiritual practices or faith and travel to cope.

About WebMD

WebMD Health Corp., an Internet Brands Company, is the leading provider of health information services, serving patients, physicians, health care professionals, employers, and health plans through public and private online portals, mobile platforms, and health-focused publications. The WebMD Health Network includes WebMD Health, Medscape, Jobson Healthcare Information, prIME Oncology, MediQuality, Frontline, Vitals Consumer Services, MedicineNet, eMedicineHealth, RxList, OnHealth, Medscape Education, and other owned WebMD sites.

WebMD®, Medscape®, CME Circle®, Medpulse®, eMedicine®, MedicineNet®,®, and RxList® are among the trademarks of WebMD Health Corp. or its subsidiaries.

About Internet Brands

Headquartered in El Segundo, Calif., Internet Brands® is a fully integrated online media and software services organization focused on four high-value vertical categories: Health, Automotive, Legal, and Home/Travel. The company's award-winning consumer websites lead their categories and serve more than 250 million monthly visitors, while a full range of web presence offerings has established deep, long-term relationships with SMB and enterprise clients. Internet Brands' powerful, proprietary operating platform provides the flexibility and scalability to fuel the company's continued growth. Internet Brands is a portfolio company of KKR and Temasek. For more information, please visit

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