The social effects can be drastic as well. Nearly 90 percent of young people in the juvenile justice system report having experienced the death of at least one loved one. And although grief is a universal experience, it can contribute to lifelong racial inequality, as Black Americans experience the loss of loved ones far more frequently and earlier in life than white Americans, contributing to differences in mental and physical health outcomes.
“Grief should be investigated the same way we examine other public health indicators like obesity, smoking and drinking,” said Dr. Toni Miles, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia.
After conducting a statewide health survey three years ago, Dr. Miles discovered that 45 percent of Georgia residents over 18 indicated they were newly bereaved. The findings suggested that grief was far more prevalent than the other three risk factors, she said.
Viewing grief as a threat to overall health could pave the way for prevention efforts — including financial assistance — that help individuals navigate life-altering changes, such as shifts in family income and housing. “We need systemic change to protect those who are left behind,” Dr. Miles told me.
A White House office of bereavement care is a necessary start, and could benefit families who have lost loved ones to other causes, such as gun violence. There are early signs that this administration could be the one to embrace bereavement care. Starting on Monday, people who paid for the funeral and burial expenses of someone who died from Covid-19 can apply for up to $9,000 in reimbursement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently announced.
Mr. Biden has spoken frequently from experience about the scars that grief can leave, and what it’s like to face the “empty chair around the kitchen table.” He has the chance to reduce the toll that loss takes on its victims and on all of us.
Allison Gilbert (@agilbertwriter) is an author and speaker. Her latest book is “Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.”
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