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06 June 2022

Same gender partners experience worse psychological distress following bereavement

New research has found that people in same-gender relationships have greater psychological distress than those in mixed-gender relationships following the death of a partner.

Research from King’s College London, funded by the Marie Curie charity, compared the experiences of bereaved people from same-gender couples with mixed-gender couples. They discovered that the intensity of grief was high for both groups, however, bereaved people who were in a same-gender couple had, on average, significantly higher levels of psychological distress, which was described by the researchers as including ‘low mood, poor concentration and sleep, and low self-esteem.’ 

As a gay couple, Terri and I didn’t see ourselves represented in healthcare in lots of ways and that does have an effect. Even when I finally found support, I was nervous about calling.

Michele Chilver, 54, who struggled with her mental health after her wife died.

The study, which was published in Psychological Medicine, concluded that clinical and bereavement services should refine screening processes to identify those at risk of poor mental health after the death of a partner and should also be alert to the increased risks to LGBTQ+ people.

For LGBTQ+ people there is a greater severity of psychological distress that adds to the burden of grief. The legacy of exclusion, stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people in the healthcare system means people may avoid reaching out for help, or providers of bereavement and mental health support may not be recognising those who are most in need.

Dr Katherine Bristowe, Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy & Rehabilitation.

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Herbert Dunhill Senior Lecturer


Vice Dean (International) and Director and Global Lead, Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy & Rehabilitation